So this is Laia Sanz. And let’s make one thing clear right from the start – this is not a man, a man in a skirt. She is a woman who wants children. However, just about any guy would take her trophy collection. She is a fourteen-time winner of the FIM Trials World Championship, ten-time winner of the FIM Trials European Championship, six-time Enduro World Champion and seven-time Trial des Nations winner. And add to that the thirteen completed Dakar rallies. Eleven of them were on a motorcycle, in 2015 she finished in the top ten, breaking the historical record for women riding a motorcycle with ninth place. He has been driving in a car for the past three years.
“If there’s one thing she definitely lacks, it’s determination,” says her partner Diego Vallejo, himself a Spanish off-road rally champion as well as a five-time Dakar competitor. “No one in their right mind can complete fourteen Dakars. In one of them, she fell, ended up unconscious, and when she woke up, she drove to the finish line and didn’t remember how. Once, her partner dragged her 400 kilometers behind the other motorcycle on a rope. And in 2011, she rode the Dakar after tick-borne encephalitis, brain on mush, the doctor strongly advised her that it was not suitable, but she gave it anyway. And she is just as determined and determined behind the wheel. She wants to repeat what she was able to do on a motorcycle, i.e. finish in the top 10.” And for example, in the second stage of this year’s Dakar, she was around tenth place. “It takes one step at a time, I don’t necessarily need to be at the front, but I definitely want to be within range,” confirms Laia Sanz.
After all this, you can’t be surprised that in Catalonia, the region where Laia comes from, parents name their little girls after her. And maybe they hope to one day be as successful as she is. Her parents remember the first time Laia rode her four years older brother’s children’s motorcycle. “I don’t remember it, but one day they said they heard the sound of an engine, but their brother was in the kitchen with them. I was five.” No one was angry with her. Instead, her mother entered her in the junior motorcycle championship two years later. Eight children started in it and she finished eighth. “I didn’t cry. I knew I wanted to be better next time.’
But when you ask her if she is willing to take risks during races, she definitely shakes her head. “It was often the case in motorbikes that a lot of guys were going over the limit, risking everything to try to succeed. I’d rather finish at ten than at seven, but with the certainty of finishing in one piece.” She doesn’t even wear mascara, but she still looks feminine. We talk and I notice her strong shoulders, short nails and tan. “That’s what I got from cycling, for me it’s the best physical preparation. For me, driving a car is just as much work as riding a motorcycle. I have to work hard to keep it up.”
When he sees that I have a photo of animals on my phone, he asks if they are mine. When I tell her that I have four cats and two dogs at home, she visibly warms up and shows me her cats. She is thirty-nine years old and childless. Yet. “I want children. Of course, I feel that I’m getting older, I’m very aware of my age, but I can’t always imagine that I should purposefully get out of that carousel. Because if that happens, it’s clear to me that I won’t come back here as a rider. And I still have some dreams.”
I ask her how she is racing in Saudi Arabia, where five years ago women did not even have the right to hold a driver’s license. “It’s the same as everywhere else, perhaps paradoxically I perceive even more respect than in Europe. The other competitors look at me as an equal partner. But it wasn’t always like that,” he laughs. And I immediately remember how she said in one of the interviews that one of the worst moments of her career was when she was flying with the team somewhere for a race and all the other drivers, men, were flying in business and she was in normal economy class. “I thought it was terribly unfair.”
When I asked Martin Prokop what he thinks about her as a driver, he mentions with admiration that she definitely knows how to drive better than some guys. And that those years in the saddle of a motorcycle taught her to read the terrain well. “She is smart and drives smart. That’s when Carlos Sainz pulled her out of motorcycles when he offered her a place in his Acciona Extreme E team.”
Laia Sanz wants to complete her fourteenth Dakar. “I don’t have a specific plan. I take it more as a challenge. My co-driver Maurizio Gerini and I thought we would drive smart. So we’re not planning to show off anywhere, but we’re going to be patient and if we finish third in the single-axle category, we’ll be satisfied.” Be sure to follow her and let you know how she finishes at the end.
🇪🇸 We had a very good stage today. We ran where we could and loosened up in an area of stones to avoid punctures. At the end of the special we lost a bit, although Maurizio has solved it very well. We are very happy with our P16, although today we could finish closer to the Top 10 and first in 4×2. Keep going 👍🏻 – 🇬🇧 Today we have done a very good stage. We have pushed where we could and slowed down in a zone of stones to avoid punctures. At the end of the special we’ve been lost a bit but Maurizio has solved it very well. We are very happy with our P16, although today we could finish near the Top 10 and first of 4×2. We want to continue like this 👍🏻 – (CAT) We had a very good stage today. We ran where we could and loosened up in an area of stones to avoid punctures. At the end of the special we got a little lost although Maurizio handled it very well. We are very happy with our P16, although today we were struggling to finish closer to the Top 10 and first 4×2. Keep it up 👍🏻
Posted by Laia Sanz on Sunday, January 7, 2024
But no matter how nice and nice she seems, it is extremely unlikely that she would repeat the success of another competitor, Jutta Kleinschmidt, who won the Dakar Rally in 2001 behind the wheel of a Mitsubishi Pajero. Since then, no other woman has not only failed to do so, but has not even come close to winning. Maybe next time. Unless Laia Sanz has other things to worry about. And she herself will choose whether it will be motherhood, or perhaps a car of the highest category T1+, with which she could easily think about the highest rungs as well.