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If I had to pick one ultimate off-road racer, who would I choose? Since there are legends in every form of riding and racing, from every country, I had to ponder for a while. I decided, why not pick the toughest race and see who dominates that. The Paris Dakar Rally is arguably the toughest race in off-roading. And if I had to pick just one ultimate competitor there, it would have to be Stéphane Peterhansel. He may be better known now as the dominating French rally car driver, but looking at his biography, you'll see he knows how to get around on a bike too, which to me makes him the ultimate off-road racer.
For starters, he won the Dakar Rally nine times (think about that for a moment), six times on a Yamaha motorcycle and 3 times in a rally car. But he has also won the World Enduro Championship, twice. And remember the ISDE (International Six Day Enduro)? You know, the Olympics of motorcycling that draws riders every year from all over the world to compete in a 1000 mile race where riders must pass a series of challenging stages and are required to do all of their own mechanical maintenance? I believe he won that too… eight times.
Surprisingly, this guy was not riding and racing from birth like many of today's heroes. Peterhansel got his first motorcycle was when he was 8 years old, but shortly after, when his parents separated, he was sent to live with his grandparents where he developed a fascination with skateboards. By the time he was 12 years old he was completely addicted to skateboarding. He would spend hours upon hours practicing his skateboarding skills, not riding motorcycles, and he became a champion skateboarder in France at about age 13.
It wasn't until age 16 that he entered his first motocross race, and at 17 he dropped out of school to pursue his dream of becoming a professional motocross racer. As the story goes, his father gave him about one year to accomplish that goal, and if he failed, Stéphane was to join his fathers plumbing business!
At 18 he won the Championship of France Enduro competition and three years later at the age of 21 he participated in his first Dakar race. In 1991 he would get the first of his record breaking collection of Dakar motorcycle wins.
1998 would be his most recent year winning the Dakar on a motorcycle. But after breaking the record for Dakar wins by Neveu, he switched to cars and incredibly, went on to win the Dakar overall three more times, with a number of other strong finishes. Not bad for a skateboarder with a late start in racing.
An unbelievable list of accomplishments from an incredibly talented individual is the only way to describe this man's life. For that reason, Stéphane Peterhansel gets my vote for ultimate off-road racer (I'm sure he's just thrilled). Mostly because he's a motorcycle rider at heart. Anyway, check out these old Dakar pictures of him on a Yamaha XTZ850.