We sit down with one of the finest rally riders in the world, Spanish legend Laia Sanz, as part of the Cycle News Live video series. Here are some highlights of our chat:
Photography by Red Bull Content Pool
Laia Sanz is not just the finest female off-road racer in the world, she’s one of the best riders, full stop. As part of the Cycle News Live YouTube interview series, we sat down with her to hear her thoughts on trials, rally, and the mental state you need to bring to the table if you’re going to finish nine Dakars in a row.
Click HERE to watch and listen to the full 40-minute interview with Sanz, where you’ll get to know Laia and see what makes this titan of off-road racing tick. The video is also at the bottom of this page.
Laia Sanz on the Benefit of Trials Competition
“I think I was good on trials because I worked a lot. I think trials is the most difficult sport on a bike. It gives you a lot of discipline and a lot of hard work to improve because you need to try and try and try. The technique you need in trials is really difficult.
“Then I started riding enduro and rallies. Of course, I had to learn about the speed, but I had almost a good technique. For example, when we have a stony stage in Dakar, I’m quite good because trials taught me a lot about these things. I have no problems crossing the dunes. In technical places, I think I’m quite strong.
“I think if someone wants to improve in all motorsports, also in driving cars, I think trials can help you a lot. You need to learn about balance. Also, you need to think a lot and in trials you need to be calm, to think about everything. I think it helps in every motorsport.”
Laia Sanz on the Changing Face of Rally Racing
“The sport is changing. In 10 years, the level has grown a lot. Everybody is so professional. Also, it’s really interesting because many riders from other sports are coming. Good motocross and enduro riders are coming to rallies. Many world rally champions are coming to rallies. Now the level is so high, it’s so professional. In the bikes the level is so high. Before some stages, the riders were more about the strategy but now are just full [on the] gas. It’s like a motocross race during all the start.
“It’s changing also because there is less and less navigation. Especially this year it was quite strange because, for sure, it was the fastest Dakar I ever did: I think too much. Of course, guys like Ricky [Brabec] and Toby [Price], that they are used to places like Baja, they are so fast in these conditions, but before the racing was more navigated. Everybody was more on the strategy, sometimes they slowed down. Now it’s always full gas.
“I think in rally it’s not only about going flat out. I think it needs to be more navigated. Also, then it’s less dangerous. I think in rally it’s not only about speed and about being crazy on the gas all the time, it’s also about navigation, about strategy, about thinking [about] the bike. Also, I think in South America, we were used to Dakar being really technical also on the riding. You have to take care about the bike a lot because it was really easy to crash and break things. Here [in Saudi Arabia] this year it was more about top speed. For me, I didn’t enjoy this so much because I’m more used to technical places. I enjoy more the navigation. These conditions were difficult for me because I’m not used to this kind of race.”
Laia Sanz on the Camaraderie of Rally Racing
“It’s really nice. The chance we have to discover places and to meet people and cultures is great. I have so many memories from South America, people from Bolivia, Argentina, Peru. Also, the atmosphere we have in rally is different from other races. I think we are more close between riders. The relationship is quite good. I don’t know what exactly makes rally so special.
“Paulo [Goncalves, who died on the seventh stage of the 2020 Dakar Rally] was a really special guy and was loved by everyone, because he was really a true sportsman. Always correct. Also with a lot of experience. So, everybody loves him. I think he always tried to help everybody and to give some advice. It was hard because we have some lost in other Dakars, but not one from the top that everybody knows really well like Paulo. He was so close to everybody.”
Laia Sanz on Training For a Two-Week Rally
“We train a lot with the team. We train in navigation and road books in Morocco and close to Barcelona. But then, of course, the physical part is different from motocross or enduro or trials. We need to work more on the endurance side, because in Dakar you can be eight hours on the bike, sweating a lot. The last part of the year, I changed a little bit my preparation and I work more on the endurance side. Usually I train a lot on the enduro bike, motocross bike and trials, but then in the last part of the year I train more on the rally bike and also long trainings. We do the motocross track for maybe one hour and a half nonstop. Then we rest a little bit and then again. We change a little bit and we do more of this kind of training at the end of the year.
“I’ve been in Austria in Red Bull training center last year. It was so interesting because they test a lot of things that you cannot imagine. It’s really nice to be part of the Red Bull family. They take care about their athletes. It’s not only about putting a logo in the cap or on the bike. It’s about taking care of the athletes, to help them. This is really nice because you feel the support. They take care and they try to help in every way they can.”
Laia Sanz on Helping the Next Generation of Female Racers
“I think it’s improving a lot, women in motorsports. We have many more women than some years ago. Especially, I can see in Spain in trials or enduro there are many young girls and they are quite strong. I feel really happy about that because I think I helped a little bit to show that it’s also possible for us to be competitive and to be in this sport. Now it’s nice to see how it’s growing. I think in some years it will be much better. I lived the situation and now I know how hard it is. I just want for the new generation that they have an easier way. I think it’s interesting to try to help the new generation in women’s sport. I think I lived a lot of bad situations and I think it’s necessary to improve this because we are more and more, and the level is improving. We need to push.”CN
VIDEO | Live With The Queen of Rally, Laia Sanz