Kirsten Landman is poised to become Africa's 'first lady' of Dakar

After a heroic comeback from a life-threatening crash, the SA rider is one stage away from her dream to finish the world's toughest off-road race

17 January 2020 - 08:15 By Motoring Reporter
SA's Kirsten Landman aims to become the first African woman to finish the Dakar Rally on a bike.
SA's Kirsten Landman aims to become the first African woman to finish the Dakar Rally on a bike.
Image: Reuters

After recovering from a terrible crash in 2013 that put her in a coma for 11 days, SA’s Kirsten Landman thought she would never again compete on a motorcycle.

Today she is poised to become the first African woman to finish the Dakar Rally, the world’s toughest off-road race. With one stage to go in the marathon event, taking place in Saudi Arabia for the first time, the finish line is compellingly in sight for the KTM rider who lies 68th out of 100 riders.

The 28-year-old from Summerveld in KwaZulu-Natal, started riding bikes at the age of eight and went on to become one of SA’s top enduro riders, competing in races around the world including the Red Bull Sea to Sky and the Roof of Africa.

She started her journey to the Dakar after the accident in the Botswana 1000 Desert Race which nearly ended her career and her life.

After recovering from the crash into a tree stump which left her with a lacerated spleen, severed pancreas and damaged small intestine, she was certain she would never again compete in an off-road rally. But her turning point came in a conversation with SA’s Joey Evans, who finished the Dakar in 2017 despite being partly paraplegic.

“If I had been given R2 million to go to the Dakar, I would have said no,” said Landman. “I was just too scared. Joey Evans was the one who told me I had to go for it, mentioning that he had to learn to walk again after his crash.

“It took me two years to prepare. Joey has been a mentor for me, after all it’s his ‘stupid idea’. I again competed in off-road racing in 2018 and returned to Botswana for the Desert 1000. That was actually my biggest victory.”

What was at first a “no way” became an idea, before turning to a goal. “Kirst”, one of SA’s top hard enduro riders, lined up at the start of this year’s Dakar rally on January 5 with two mottos written on the handlebars of her KTM: “keep wheels turning” on the left, “get to the finish line” on the right.

“Receiving the acceptance letter of the Dakar really hit me,” she said. “It’s exciting. I had to adapt to the weight difference of the bike. My main worry is crashing, of course, and the high speed stuff. One small mistake changes everything. Stars have to align.

“Becoming the first African woman to finish on a bike would be fantastic for my country and for the continent.”