Winning the Dakar Malle Moto: Meet Arunas Gelazninkas

Winning the Dakar Malle Moto: Arunas Gelazninkas // Cross Country ADV

Rally Dakar Malle Moto class, now renamed to Original by Motul, is the most difficult class in the rally. In addition to covering insane distances across the world’s toughest terrain, Dakar malle moto pilots do not have any race assistance: instead, they repair and maintain their motorcycles themselves. In other words, when a Dakar malle moto rider reaches the bivouac after a hard day’s racing, there are no teams of mechanics waiting for him or her. They have to look after their bikes, have some food, attend to their bikes, and they’re lucky if they catch a few hours of sleep before heading to the start of the next day.

If that sounds like mission impossible, it’s kind of the point. To add to that, while Dakar malle moto riders compete in their own class, they are still ranked overall. They do not stand a chance against the factory riders, but they more than make up for it by sheer perseverance and a will of steel.

In 2019, Arunas Gelazninkas, a Lithuanian enduro rider, entered Rally Dakar as a rookie. Back then, no one expected much out of him – yet he placed 24th, an incredible result for a rookie and a rally first-timer. In 2020, Arunas came in 30th – another solid result, and fans began to notice. In 2021, he kicked it up another notch entering the Dakar malle moto class… and winning it.

Winning the Dakar Malle Moto: Arunas Gelazninkas // Cross Country ADV

What does it take to win the Original by Motul, and is Arunas going for it again this year? We chatted with him to find out.

Choosing the Dakar Malle Moto

For many riders, placing 24th in the Rally Dakar would have been a good enough result. As a rookie and a privateer, what more can you expect? But for Arunas, this was just the start. After another good run in 2020, the Lithuanian went for the ultimate challenge because, as he puts it, he just couldn’t help it. “Malle moto has a certain legend to it, and it’s definitely a different challenge. For me, it was also the fact that it’s the most difficult Dakar class. I simply had to do it”, Arunas shares. “Every Dakar is essentially a lesson for you, it teaches you what you need to do better the next time, and the malle moto experience taught me a ton”.

Winning the Dakar Malle Moto: Arunas Gelazninkas // Cross Country ADV

Fighting for the Original Title

Coming from a motocross and enduro racing background, Arunas is by no means a slow rider, and that proved an advantage in the malle moto battle. “I know that sleep deprivation is the hardest part for a lot of Originals, but frankly, I didn’t suffer from it too much as I would always make it to the bivouac before 11pm, which gave me plenty of time to prep the bike, grab a bite to eat, and get some rest. What really was difficult was getting up at 4 am, packing up the tent and tools, getting your roadbook, gearing up…when you have assistance, you just get up and go, everything’s ready for you. With malle moto, all the prep is in your hands”, Arunas explained.

Winning the Dakar Malle Moto: Arunas Gelazninkas // Cross Country ADV

Quickly adding fatigue was another challenge. “I think malle moto is more difficult physically and mentally because, once again, since there’s no assistance, you’ve got to plan everything yourself. You’re trying to optimize everything, so sometimes, I would mentally plan the next day’s stage while racing, and that seriously depletes you – you’ve got to race, navigate, pace yourself, and while you’re doing all that plus planning tomorrow’s stage, it’s exhausting”, Arunas shared.

Keeping It Cool

Planning your stages is crucial, but it’s equally challenging to keep a cool head when the chaos begins. “Day Nine was extremely difficult: I missed a couple of waypoints and had to double back, and then I hit that hellish riverbed where Toby Price crashed out. I was angry with myself for missing the waypoints, and I was on dangerous terrain – if you hurry mindlessly on rocks like that, the risk of serious crash increases, and it’s tough to keep a cool head, force yourself to slow down, and ride it out.  Nearly crashed a few times that day, and that’s what made me realize, slow down, don’t end your race here, get to the bivouac… I did – but this day was the hardest physically, mentally, and emotionally”, Arunas recalled.

Winning the Dakar Malle Moto: Arunas Gelazninkas // Cross Country ADV

Dakar Malle Moto Strategy

When you’re racing the world’s toughest rally, planning and strategy are everything. For Arunas, the preparation stage is extremely important – according to him, a good prep gives you a lot of confidence.

Next, it’s all about planning your stages and being smart about your speed. “My goal was to finish the Dakar malle moto, and that was my single focus. I didn’t even look at the overall rankings – all I knew was I was going for that malle moto finish, and that was all that mattered. I could have ridden faster, but I knew I had to preserve my energy. Sometimes at the bivouac, you’d see riders come in and they could barely stand up – you look at them and you know that tomorrow, they’ll be much slower and crash more, and that may cost them the race. I didn’t push myself into extremes like that to avoid precisely this; I wanted to have enough energy and mental focus every single day, so I paced myself and only pushed myself when absolutely needed. And it paid off”, Arunas shares.

Winning the Dakar Malle Moto: Arunas Gelazninkas // Cross Country ADV

For him, the best part of the Dakar malle moto race was the camaraderie at the bivouac. “You really can’t compare the Original camp with the others – when you have assistance, you don’t really mingle with other riders as much and probably only talk to the guys right next to you. In the Original camp, you get to know everyone, it’s like a mini family within the bivouac, and you make friends for life. Everyone is helping everyone out, and it’s really extraordinary”.

When the going got tough, Arunas reminded himself he wasn’t alone. “When you’re really struggling, just remember that everyone is struggling. If it’s insanely hot and you’re facing giant dunes, remember that everyone is insanely hot, looking at the same giant dunes. The terrain, the conditions, the route are the same for everyone, so you’re not suffering uniquely – everybody is in the same boat, and all you can do is your best”, Arunas said.

After his Dakar malle moto win, Arunas went for a week-long holiday and had a pan to race seven World Bajas to prep for Dakar 2022. Unfortunately, he broke a leg during Dubai Baja, which put a spanner in his wheels. Still, he raced the Hungarian Baja next, then entered the Greece Rally. “On the one hand, Greece Rally was fun – the bivouac is static, so after a stage, you’re back in your hotel chilling. On the other hand, Greece Rally terrain is no walk in the park, and it would be a mistake to underestimate the special stages – we had 200-300km specials on rocky, rough mountain tracks, so the riding was technical and tiring. It was a great training all in all, and definitely a good race to remind myself of the Dakar discipline”.

At the Rally Dakar 2022, Arunas is once again entering the malle moto class. “My hope is to ride as best as I can and not disappoint my fans, but the Dakar is unpredictable, and each Rally is a new story. I’ll count my chickens in January”, Arunas said.

Follow Arunas’ race at the Dakar 2022 via his social media.

Images: Arunas/Vytautas Dranginis

2 thoughts on “Winning the Dakar Malle Moto: Meet Arunas Gelazninkas

  1. Pingback: Dakar Rally 2022: No More DNFs // Cross Country ADV

  2. Pingback: Rally Footpegs Review by Arunas Gelazninkas // Cross Country ADV

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