You could say to win the famous Dakar Rally as a Frenchman is the ultimate dream, Cyril Neveu and Gilles Lalay are Honda riders that have been crowned victors and another compatriot looking to join them is Monster Energy Honda Team’s Adrien Van Beveren.
No stranger to tackling the world’s toughest rally, he lines up on 5th January 2024 to take part in his ninth Dakar.
“Dakar is a big monster, it is definitely a race you have to respect. I love Dakar, it's the challenge of my life and it's my dream to win it. Everything around my life now is directed towards the Dakar Rally.”
Not known for the faint hearted, Adrien is still looking for that elusive podium, his best result coming fourth in 2022. He crashed whilst leading the rally in 2018 and again in 2020 only a few stages into the event, which not only knocked him out but required a lengthy recovery period.
“I don't remember anything as I was very concussed and it took me some time to be able to think quickly again, to analyse information and I couldn't see that well for around six months. I also had to have some surgeries on my shoulders and it did feel like it was a close call.
It was a tough time to get confident again but it was my challenge to get back to the best level to finally be able to win again.”
As a sand specialist, Adrien has conquered the famous Enduropale du Touquet beach race three times, the ‘Petit Prince du sable’ making the change from beach racing to rallies in 2015 with Yamaha. The Northern Frenchman was destined for a career on two wheels as he got the bug at the age of three, his Christmas present being a 50cc bike and in what seems to have come full circle, he was just eight years of age when he got his hands on his first Honda, an 80cc Honda 2000.
“I think I got the bike when I was seven, but I didn’t start to ride it until my eighth birthday. It was a big bike and I remember my dad holding it for me to get on, it felt like it had so much power, it was like a beast. I’m still looking for it as I would like to have it in my collection now.”
Fast forward to 2022 and the 33 year old signed with the factory Honda squad to contest the remaining rallies on the World Rally-Raid Championship calendar after Yamaha pulled out after the Dakar that year.
“To sign with Honda that year for me was kind of a big challenge, but there was also a big question mark too. Would I be that comfortable with them? How was it going to be in that team? I’d been with Yamaha for 14 years and I was leaving a group of friends, so I didn’t know how it was going to be. I got really surprised how fast and how quick I was accepted in the Honda team, it's like a family and I completely felt welcome.”
Success at the Andalucia round, in only his second rally for the team, also saw him finish third In the World Rally-Raid Championship standings in 2022, despite missing the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
“We did the first race in Morocco in 2022 and I was feeling good on the bike, but still needed to get used to it. Only 10 days later was Andalucia and I knew I was good on this kind of terrain, so I decided to go for it. I felt amazing on the bike, although I won't say it was easy because victory never is, but everything went well at this rally and I could take the win. It was my first in the World Championship at the same time and it really made me feel proud, all the work I had put in had paid off.”
He followed it up in 2023 with victory in Abu Dhabi, which helped Honda to its second consecutive manufacturers’ title. An experienced team sees him alongside two-time FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion, Pablo Quintanilla, 2020 Dakar Rally winner, Ricky Brabec, the vastly experienced Jose Ignacio Cornejo and two newbies to the team in 2023, Skyler Howes and Tosha Schareina.
“I've been a Honda rider only one and a half years but it feels like I'm part of them which is great because with a rally career you need to make sacrifices, you need to take risks and it's nice to feel all those people supporting you. No one person is more important than the other, everybody is important, we are a team.”
Away from rallies, Adrien lives in the enclave of Andorra, surrounded by the mountains which he tackles, be it on skis or by road bike, joining the resident pro cyclists for a spin, to dipping in lakes or getting out on his trials bike, he never seems to sit still for very long.
“I feel the life here is pure for an athlete, it's something good as I can train in the middle of nature, in the mountains, with some altitude. I can get on my bicycle and be climbing two minutes from my home and I can also drive my car a few hours away and be on my bike in the Spanish desert."
With a packed training schedule, Adrien is a man on a mission and the month of January will be the ultimate adventure to kick off 2024 and one that he is prepared for.
“Dakar is once a year, you have to be ready for this time and that's a challenge which is not always easy. It's a way of life as I’m preparing for the Dakar all year, I ride in the sand and I travel everywhere in the world to race and ride different kinds of deserts and this is what is beautiful about rallying, you race so many different kinds of terrain; you can meet mud, sand, you can have cold weather, you can have super warm weather, you have to adapt yourself every minute which is a challenge.”