Joey Evans overcomes paralysis, defeats 2017 Dakar Rally

Sam Sunderland takes his first victory and Stéphane Peterhansel proves deserving of the “Mr. Dakar” title. But South Africa’s hero of the 2017 Dakar, Joey Evans, wasn’t in the top 5.

With the motto, “I did not come this far to only come this far” pasted on his bike, Evans achieved his dream of finishing the Dakar Rally. Joey, who was rendered a paraplegic less than 10 years ago, is the only South African biker to finish the 2017 Dakar Rally.

Joey Evans on the podium
Joey Evans graces the podium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, at the end of the 2017 Dakar. Photo – ASO

It wasn’t easy.

On Stage 4, Joey stopped to help a fallen comrade, fellow South African David Thomas, who suffered a broken leg and had to be airlifted to hospital. Before Joey carried on, he took a sticker from David’s bike. The sticker commemorates David’s late brother, in whose honour he competed in the Dakar. Joey put it on his own bike and carried it to the finish.

“I’ll sort out that sticker – I’ll take it to the finish,” said an emotional Evans.

Joey stopped to help every fallen competitor that he came across.

Stage 11 almost broke Joey. He was (literally) stuck in a rut, dropped his bike and rolled out of the way just before a car drove over it. The driver stopped to ask Joey if he was okay, to which Joey responded, “No! Come help me, I can’t move or get this bike up or anything!” But the driver just waved and got back into his car, leaving Joey behind. Joey thought his dream of completing the Dakar had come to an end, and so close to the finish.

Joey’s tenacity and perseverance gripped Dakar fans and competitors alike. Back home in SA Joey has become a cult figure, with hashtags like #joeyyougotthis popping up on social media.

The extent of the damage to his KTM included a flattened exhaust, which went into the back wheel, the tower broken and mangled, front and rear petrol tanks broken off, with petrol spilled everywhere, and the perch of the foot peg missing.

Fixing it as best he could, Joey then rode his bike for another 10 to 15 km (he estimates, since he no longer had an ICO), and found a bike laying on the side of the road – the previous occupant having been airlifted due to a broken arm. Joey spent an hour and a half stripping the abandoned bike for the parts to repair his own.

By the end of Stage 11, Joey had ridden for 20 hours. He lost 6 hours in this stage due to various difficulties. After two hours of sleep, Joey got up and finished the final stage of the Dakar.

Joey Evans, on his KTM 450 Rally Replica, achieved 93rd place overall.

Sam Sunderland with trophy
The UK’s Sam Sunderland triumphed in the bike division. Photo – ASO

Sam Sunderland landed KTM their 16th consecutive victory (20th in the Dakar) and becomes the first British rider to win the Dakar Rally. In the car class, Stéphane Peterhansel has taken victory in the stunningly capable Peugeot 3008 DKR; his 13th overall and his 7th victory in cars.

Another South African achiever was Giniel de Villiers (Toyota Gazoo Racing SA) who placed 5th in the car class. Again, it was challenge after challenge, but South Africans are made of tougher stuff. In Stage 10, Giniel encountered two punctures and proceeded to finish the stage on three wheels, after the tyre disintegrated. “Changing a wheel would have taken longer,” said De Villiers.

Giniel de Villiers nurses his injured Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux to the end of Stage 10. Photo – TGRSA

At the end, The Dakar was shortened by two days on account of the “worst floods to hit Bolivia and northern Argentina in 40 years.” Stage 6 and 9 were waived after a colossal landslide, caused by torrential rains. The organisers were also forced to shorten stages 5, 7 and 8. Although stage 9 was cancelled, the riders still had to trek 600 km in torturous weather to get to the start of Stage 10.

Motorcycles final standings
1. Sam Sunderland (KTM)
2. Matthias Walkner (KTM)
3. Gerard Farres Guell (KTM)
4. Adrien van Beveren (Yamaha)
5. Joan Barreda Bort (Honda)
16. Laia Sanz (KTM)
36. Vincent Crosbie (KTM)
93. Joey Evans (KTM)

Spanish rider Laia Sanz was the first female motorcyclist to finish the 2017 Dakar. Photo – ASO

Cars final standings
1. Stéphane Peterhansel (Peugeot)
2. Sébastien Loeb (Peugeot)
3. Cyril Despres (Peugeot)
4. Nani Roma (Toyota)
5. Giniel de Villiers (Toyota)
9. Conrad Rautenbach (Toyota)

Peterhansel in the 3008 DKR
Stéphane Peterhansel powering to his 13th Dakar win. Peugeot has won the Dakar in 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 2016 and this year. Photo – ASO

The quad division was won by Sergey Karyakin (Yamaha), the UTV class by Leandro Torres (Polaris) and the truck race by Eduard Nikolaev (Kamaz).

Biker Vincent Crosbie (Botswana) was a mechanic for a friend in the 2015 Dakar, which gave him a taste for something he had to have – the feeling of completing the Dakar as a competitor. Also on a KTM, Vincent bagged an excellent 36th overall.

See Joey’s arrival in Johannesburg here.

Report by Tracey Simpson