Is it possible to go from zero to Dakar, especially after the doctors tell you you may never ride again?
A couple of weeks ago, I got a message on Facebook inviting me to race the Hungarian Baja. At the time, I wasn’t sure I could make it as my DR650 was awaiting clutch plate replacement; but Tamas Esch, the Hungarian rider who invited me, isn’t someone who gives up easily. Or ever. After learning that the Hungarian Suzuki dealership was going to take 4-5 days to get my clutch parts delivered, Tamas made a few phone calls, and just like that, the parts arrived in 24 hours giving me just enough time to do the replacement and make it to a small town of Kemenesmagasi for the rally. Tamas had also arranged an overnight stay, then helped me finish installing my LABA7 roadbook navigation kit until 1 AM just before the race.
“I have that rally mentality of “nothing is impossible”, you know?”, Tamas said, when I asked him why he was so obsessed. That phrase got me intrigued because it was exactly that “nothing is impossible” message that got me so hooked on the Dakar back in 2019 and rally racing subsequently. Hearing it again somewhere in Hungary while fitting a new circuit board for my roadbook holder at night piqued my curiosity, and I wanted to hear Tamas’ story.
Adventure to Rally
Tamas had started riding motorcycles just five years ago, going from road riding to adventure and eventually, rally. “I immediately fell in love with off-road riding, but simply riding the trails just wasn’t enough. I wanted to get into the sport, I wanted the adrenaline and the full-on adventure, so I started doing rallies. It’s really not easy to get into the rally racing world, as it’s still such a mystery in a way – coming from adventure riding background, you just don’t know where to start. You think most rallies are like the Dakar, brutal and crazy expensive; that you need racing licenses and all sorts of complicated paperwork, that you pretty much need to be a pro or a semi-pro rider… But none of that is true, and at least in Europe, the rally racing scene is very amateur-friendly. Once I got into it, I was completely hooked”, Tamas told me.
Progressing quickly and dreaming of doing the Dakar or the Africa Eco Race at some point, Tamas raced Hungarian and European rallies before venturing out into the desert for the Dubai Baja last year. That was supposed to be the big step forward with tougher, harder, and more complex desert rally racing. As bad luck would have it, however, Tamas had a serious accident crashing from a steep sand dune drop off and smashing his shoulder into pieces. “The bone just shattered into dozens of tiny splinters, and the muscle was completely torn. The doctors couldn’t piece it all together, and I ended up with a bionic shoulder socket implant. I was told the recovery would last at least a year and a half, and that riding motorcycles was over. For good”, Tamas explained.
Road to Recovery
After being told he would never ride again, Tamas decided to build Cross Country ADV, a small rally training and assistance company just so he could stay close to the races. “I put together a small collection of bikes, built a fully equipped van that can offer all the tools, spare parts, and support during a rally, and was supposed to be assisting riders at Africa Eco Race this year. I figured that this way, at least I would still be in the rally world, even if I wasn’t competing myself”, Tamas said.
At the same time, he refused to give up on the dream. After consulting with several different doctors in Hungary and Italy, Tamas finally found a surgeon who worked with athletes – and who offered some hope. “I knew none of this was going to be easy, but little by little, with loads of physio, lots of exercise, and just sheer stubbornness, I got back on the bike. And then, back on the rally start line”, Tamas smiled. Although he is still unable to move his arm in certain angles, and the pain is a constant reminder of that Dubai crash, Tamas is hellbent on making it work.
“It’s like Joey Evans, the South African rider who went from being paralyzed to racing the Dakar, says. “Never push that red button”. And I don’t intend to”, he told me after the Hungarian Baja.
“Rally racing is an incredible sport encompassing so many different layers – it’s not just speed, it’s also endurance, navigation, mental game, physical challenge… And I think a lot more adventure riders can go from trail riding to rally racing if they want to, but because there’s so little information out there and because the rally racing world is so closed off catering to its inner circles rather than targeting new riders, it can be hard to get into. So my goal is to help adventure riders to get some rally training, assist them to start racing, help them to build their own bikes or rent them a fully prepared rally bike with service assistance, and last but not least, I want to share my mindset with people and give them courage to live their dreams whatever they’re going through or dealing with at the moment. Because nothing is ever impossible”.