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ADV NewsStrong Finish For Only Woman Rider In Dakar 2023’s Toughest Class

Strong Finish For Only Woman Rider In Dakar 2023’s Toughest Class

Kirsten Landman conquers the hardest Dakar in recent years unassisted.

Published on 01.19.2023

Finishing Dakar, the world’s ultimate and most difficult rally, is no easy feat. But doing so in the Original by Motul class, formerly known as Malle Moto, where riders have zero mechanical support and are limited by having only minimal tools, spare parts and camping essentials on hand, is next level badass. For veteran female hard enduro and rally racer Kirsten Landman, who already had a 55th place finish in Dakar 2020 as a supported Rally2 rider, her unassisted finish in 2023, on the hardest course in recent years, marks the greatest achievement of her life.

And that, coming from someone who’s prodigious career is a veritable treasure trove of hard-won achievements, only begins to describe her success in Saudi Arabia.

Rider Kirsten Landman Finishes Dakar 2023 unassisted
Photo: ASP Rope Access

Finishing 12th without a single penalty in the 2023 Original by Motul class on her KTM 450 Rally Replica, and as the only female in this year’s Malle Moto, the 31-year-old South African didn’t enjoy an easy road getting to this year’s start at Sea Camp. There was plenty of training of course, and mechanical practice, too, as Kirsten moved toward her goal of getting “the full Dakar experience” in Malle Moto. And all this on the heels of being forced to abandon Dakar 2022, where she’d planned to return to Rally2, after positive Covid tests put her into mandatory isolation just days before the rally began. 


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While the situation was a gut wrenching letdown at first glance, Kirsten soon saw her compulsory withdrawal as a godsend after learning just days later her mom was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. “I should have been on my bike,” she says, but instead she was “able to nurse her until the end.” From the fishing line of this year’s triumphant finish, Kirsten dedicated her effort to her mom, saying “This one is for you Mom. Thank you for keeping me safe and giving me the strength to be the woman I am today.”

Rider Kirsten Landman Finishes Dakar 2023 unassisted
As a rider competing in the “Original” by Motul class (previously Malle Moto), Kirsten was completely unsupported throughout the event, racing, servicing and preparing her bike with no external assistance from start to finish. Photo: ASP Rope Access.

Motorcycles were a central part of Kirsten’s life from an early age. She started riding at just 8 and was competing by age 14. “I just wanted to be doing what the boys were doing,” she says. By age 20 she had her first sponsor and was racing as a pro. And then, in 2013, disaster struck. A massive high-speed off-road crash nearly cost Kirsten her life, severing her pancreas, which led to septic shock. In a coma, she was put on life support where she lingered “touch and go” for 11 days. 

Yet a mere eight months later the go-getter was back on her bike. In a 2020 interview with CNN, Kirsten said of her comeback: “The question I get asked often is why did I get back into the sport that nearly took my life? It’s because this is my life. I don’t know anything else. For me, riding my motorbike is easier than walking. It’s what brings me happiness.”

Kirsten’s triumphs in hard enduro and now rally raids have grown each year alongside her confidence and skill. She’s kicked ass in events like Roof of Africa, Red Bull Romaniacs, Sea to Sky, Braveman, X-Race Namibia and WildWood Rock, earning a huge bouquet of 1st place female finishes along with an equally impressive array of high scores in the male dominated overall standings. 

Rider Kirsten Landman Finishes Dakar 2023 unassisted
Photo: ASP Rope Access

Until last week’s triumphant arrival at the finish line of the 2023 Dakar, Kirsten’s 2020 55th overall finish (she was the 3rd place female), was her masterpiece. But completing the Malle Moto version of Dakar outshines all her past successes. “It’s so hard, but it’s so rewarding,” she says. “When you cross that finish line every day you know you’ve done it all on your own. You worked on your own bike, you didn’t have any help and you got there. Every day I feel like I’ve won a gold medal at the Olympics, that’s how good it feels.” 

Rider Kirsten Landman Finishes Dakar 2023 unassisted
Photo: ASO/J. Delfosse

She also describes the Original by Motul camp of riders as more than a random grouping. “These guys in Malle Moto have become like my family. It’s so nice. There’s this camaraderie when we’re out there…we all check on each other.” As an example it was Kristen who called in assistance for Mishal Alghuneim after he suffered injuries to both legs in a Stage 4 crash. She waited by his side until the helicopter arrived, saying of the situation that Malle riders are their own team and she knew he would’ve done the same for her. 

The feeling of crossing through the final checkpoint after 14 days and 5,000 miles of timed sections? Pure elation. Kirsten has won the hearts of so many across the world as much with her down-to-earth attitude, humility and tenacity as her world-class riding skills. But in the end it seems her most heartfelt desire is to inspire the next generation of female riders. 

“When I first started, there were no women on the scene. It was unheard of seeing a little girl on the bike,” she has said. “What I’m doing is hopefully showing the younger girls that it is possible.”

Author: Jamie Elvidge

Jamie has been a motorcycle journalist for more than 30 years, testing the entire range of bikes for the major print magazines and specializing in adventure-travel related stories. To date she’s written and supplied photography for articles describing what it’s like to ride in all 50 states and 43 foreign countries, receiving two Lowell Thomas Society of American Travel Writer’s Awards along the way. Her most-challenging adventure yet has been riding in the 2018 GS Trophy in Mongolia as Team AusAmerica’s embedded journalist.

Author: Jamie Elvidge
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