Congrats on surviving Day One of the Hellas Rally! If you managed to finish the Prologue stage, you’ve already learned a ton, you’re freaking out a lot less, and you’ve got a feel for what the hell is actually going on. Well done; now for the real rally race – and the finish.
Days 2-3: Hellas Survival Rates
Day 2 is when the rally truly kicks off. On this day, you’ll have a longer, 250-270 km special stage, and the test that is Hellas Rally will begin.
Start off with a decent breakfast, make sure you’re all set, and head on over to the now-familiar RedBull arch. You know what to expect now, so plan a solid ride and stay on your game. As you ride, exploit the faster sections for speed, ride more conservatively on the more technical stretches, and don’t forget to hydrate. Plan a quick stop every 50 kilometers or so to take a breather, grab a quick snack, and get off the bike for two minutes. Day 2 will be much longer, and if you don’t stop, don’t sip water, and don’t eat anything all day, you’ll get fatigued fast. The amount of constant concentration required to ride fast and navigate at the same time is huge, so make sure you don’t exhaust yourself on the first special completely. A good tip from a lot of the pros is to ride at about 70% of your ability, so that you’ve got a little energy and focus reserve you can tap into towards the end of the day.
Chances are, you’ll come across a few more technical sections on this day. Again, don’t just blindly chase after the riders in front of you. Follow your own roadbook, pick your own lines, and plan your own water crossings or climbs. Remember: finish, not rankings; your standing isn’t going to be anything spectacular anyway, so ignore the rankings and keep at it. A rally race is a long game, and you need to mentally budget for seven days of suffering as opposed to a few fast laps around the course.
Day 3 will be either a little longer or a little more technical than Day 2. Hellas Rally organizers really like to switch things up, so expect a long and hard day out there. Chances are, you’ll already have crashed a couple of times, got lost more than you care to admit, and struggled with a nasty steep climb or a rocky water crossing here and there. As long as you make it back to the bivouac in one piece, though, you’re good. Don’t forget to look after your bike, eat well, get your roadbook for the next day ready, attend the briefing, and get as much sleep as you can. Sleep is among the most precious commodities during a rally race, so don’t stay up late; the beer tent is there for a couple of cold ones, not a full-on party.
Every evening, make sure you got all the roadbook changes right. Organizers make last-minute changes in the roadbook for a variety of reasons: maybe the weather’s turned bad, and some of the tracks became impassable, maybe there’s been a landslide, an unhappy farmer who decided to close the gates of their property, or there’s a fallen tree across the trail that cannot be bypassed. Sometimes, the changes may be insignificant, but often, they can substantially alter your route, so make sure you always get them and mark up your roadbook accordingly.
Day 4 is going to be the biggest challenge yet. This is the marathon day, the longest day of the rally, and you’re looking at 400-450 cross-country kilometers over the harsh mountain terrain. Your body is already sore, you and your bike are already bruised and battered, and on Day 4, you will be questioning your life choices and your sanity. Make sure your bike is in top shape before the marathon day; if you’re having issues you can’t solve on your own, ask for help, or get the rally mechanics to give you a hand (you can enlist their help on a pay-per-job basis). After the marathon day, you won’t be coming back to the bivouac; you’ll be sleeping in a temporary camp this time.
If you don’t finish the marathon special – or any special, for that matter – don’t panic. The good news is, you won’t be disqualified. As an amateur, you will be allowed to start the next day, albeit with a time penalty. Essentially, as long as you keep showing up at the start of the special each day, you have a chance of finishing, even if you’re coming in dead last.
On Day 5, expect some 250-300-kilometer specials. They likely won’t be too technical, but you’ll still need to cover the distance, and the previous marathon day will have sapped all your energy. This is where the real fight begins: your body is suffering, you’re exhausted and fatigued, and you’ve likely added some sprains and possibly fractures to your collection of bruises and bumps. That’s where your mental game comes in, and that’s when you either quit or push on despite feeling like a human punching bag.
At some point, you’ll have moments when you’re tempted to hit that red button on your tracker and get a sweeper truck to collect you and your bike. You’ll have times when you’re stuck in mud, axle-deep, or you’ve just had yet another painful landing on the rocks, and you just feel like you can’t do this anymore. All rally riders go through some dark moments like this, but if we learned anything from watching Dakar racers up close, it’s this: when it all gets too much, just zoom in on the next ten meters, the next kilometre, or the next roadbook tulip. If you can get on your bike and ride another half a mile, ride half a mile. Don’t think about the whole rally, the next several days, the crazy distance ahead; just focus on that next little step. And the next. And the next.
During a rally race, fatigue, physical pain, sleep deprivation, and exhaustion accumulates and adds up fast. That’s why it’s about focusing on your own ride and preserving your energy rather than going on a chase mode and trying to be a speed hero. Every meal and every hour of sleep you skip will end up costing you later, when you’re too fatigued to ride a technical section well and crash, or you make one navigation mistake after another. Eyes on the prize, and the prize is in the long game.
Hellas Rally Finish
If you’ve made it to Day 6, you’re almost there. Now, you’ll probably have some more technical riding, because while the bulk of the distance is already behind you, the rally organizers aren’t willing to let up just yet. Ease off the throttle, focus on the navigation, and push on.
Day 7 is the craziest of them all. Neither the distance nor the terrain is going to be too wild, but it’s your mental game that’s going to seal the deal. It’s the last day, the finish line is so close now, and you feel like you can ride a little faster or pay less attention… and before you know it, you might wipe out. On Day 7, ride conservatively, stay more focused than ever before, and get your bike over that finish line come hell or high water.
Because once you do, once you see that little symbol of a chequered flag on your roadbook for the last time, once you get your finisher’s medal – that feeling is just too hard describe, and there’s nothing quite like it in the world. It’s a high-octane mix of pure joy, relief, a sense of achievement, and a feeling of being so impossibly alive you’re ready to burst. Now for the awards ceremony, the tequila shots, and the race afterparty with your raggedy band of rally buddies and comrades, filthy, bruised, and exhausted, and riding that same high.
And when it’s all said and done, when you ride away from the Hellas Rally bivouac traveling home, you’ll probably begin feeling a little blue that it’s all over, and that instead of riding to the start line tomorrow, you’ll be heading back to work and your normal routine.
Coming down from a rally high can be tough, but we’ve got a simple solution to this.
Just start planning your next rally race.
Words: ADV to Rally