The Quick Road To Dakar
Turns out you can go from zero to Dakar in just four years. Petr “Angelo” Vlcek is living proof.
Not one to talk himself up, it was a huge shock to learn that this long-haired Czech native with an outright thirst for adventure wasn’t born on a dirt bike. Instead, Angelo dedicated his 20s and early 30s to surfing the South Carolina coast and catering to the Charleston surf crowd as owner of the Parrot Surf & Skate Shop (ParrotSurfShop.com). Just four short years ago Angelo bought his first bike and made his way out to AltRider’s Taste of Dakar (AltRider.com). In 2013 Jimmy Lewis was acting host of this event and regaled attendees with stories of his many Dakar experiences. Coincidence? Not likely.
Over the next four years Angelo built an impressive racing resume despite his lack of experience. He entered the Baja Rally in 2013 (their inaugural year), and has been racing all the major events he could make it to since. Granted, this progression from off-road noob to rally veteran demonstrated his innate skill on a motorcycle, but the single-minded pursuit of a goal birthed in the sands of Nevada and carried around the world through sand, dirt, rocks and mud speaks to the real reason why he made it to Dakar in the first place; as Angelo would say “You have to have heart. If you have enough heart to finish the race you will finish the race.”
In 2014, Angelo joined Klymciw Racing. As a team member he leased his fully equipped rally bike and had the full support of a truck and crew—one of his must-haves for participating in a sport at this level. WIth Klymciw Racing he participated in national and international rallies; Merzouga, Serres, Baja, SandBlast, and Sonora. There he gained valuable experience in navigation and racing in all types of terrain.
In July of 2016 Angelo received an official letter from the Dakar officials; his amateur participation in these rallies had been thoroughly vetted and he was accepted as a 2017 Dakar competitor with the Klymciw Racing Team.
With this notice Angelo redoubled his training; calisthenics, many-miled bike rides in the Charleston heat, and staying crash-free for the remainder of the 2016 season were the new priorities. He points to this focus on fitness as a key to his later success, “You can make up the lack of riding skills or insufficient on-bike training by being in top physical condition.”
In the lead-up to his flight to Paraguay, Angelo and I spoke often. “Stay focused,” “Don’t push too hard,” and “Be flawless in your navigation,” were all encouraging words I sent his way. But not once did I tell him to “Have heart.” After our many conversations, this was the one thing I never doubted in him; his resounding belief that he would successfully finish the Dakar.
As Angelo rode across the starting stage and waved to the camera, friends and family members collectively held their breath; for the next 12 days we would text each other updates, study weather reports, and scroll through rankings looking for “Petr Vlcek.”
On Day Two, temperatures soared, with the highest predicted temperature in the world for that day. No other location on the planet was hotter than when Toby Price left the starting line in his #1 position, and temperatures steadily rose as the amateur racers pulled away from the start hours later. “No matter how hard you train, you can’t prepare for that kind of heat,” Angelo stated. “Even though that stage was relatively easy in terms of terrain and navigation, the heat/dust combination was a serious handicap.”
Day by day Angelo made progress toward his goal of finishing—slowly climbing from his #126 start to a position in the low 70s. That’s not to say he didn’t struggle; on Day Eight Angelo crashed, tucking the front end with too much front brake just before the finish of the special stage. This crash broke his clutch lever mechanism and snapped off the left half of his handlebars. He finished the stage, pushing his bike across the finish, but still needed to get to the day’s bivouac 75 kilometers away. Not one to give up, Angelo bummed a ride from rally car racer and fellow Czech countryman Martin Prokop (of the #321 team). Bruised and bleeding, Angelo managed to survive a 90km/hr tow—one-handed—through mud to the end of the liaison with a length of rope wrapped around his footpeg (Martin has a video of this posted on Youtube); Angelo’s dream of finishing was still alive.
Despite Angelo’s claim that he purposely held back a little, pushing at 70% rather than going all-out to ensure he could finish, it was clear to family and friends that he was giving 110%. Point of fact: On Stage 10 Angelo got himself lost in the heat of the day and added an hour to his time. The intense heat from the sun, his engine, and the reflected heat from the sand dunes violently poached his sweaty feet into a blistered mess with second- and third-degree burns, so bad that the medical tent personnel at the end of the stage were taking bets on whether or not he would start the next day.
The next morning Angelo stuffed his bandaged feet into his teammate’s spare boots (a size and a half larger than his own) and was at the starting gate to ride out as planned. Angelo rode with his burnt feet two more days to make it to the finish of this grueling race as the 68th out of 97 finishers.
When asked, “What does it take to finish the Dakar?” Angelo mentions “Support from your friends and family, tons of training, a support team, heart, and a great deal of funding or sponsorships.”
Indeed, the financial toll that the Dakar brings with it is taxing. Similar set-up for a fly-and-ride support team ranges from $50–$110k, with the entry fee for the Dakar standing at $18k alone; rally racing is not for those looking for a cheap weekend. But funding is only something that can get you there. Heart is what pushed Angelo to ride the 2017 Dakar and was ultimately what saw him finish.
Angelo returned to his loving and supportive wife, Cacky, their two children, and a Parrot Surf & Skate Shop “Welcome Home” party. He’ll continue to mentor and shepherd his local shredders in their pursuits of skating, surfing, and other non-bike related sports. As for 2018; Angelo is focusing on the smaller international rallies remaining in 2017 as he seeks sponsors to fund his next Dakar.