LANGTON Green bike racer Vanessa Ruck made history in Dakar, Senegal on Sunday January 14 when she became the first British woman to finish the Africa Eco Race.
The race, which follows the route of the old Dakar Rally, is infamous for its difficulty and is widely considered one of the world’s toughest endurance races due to the 6,000km course. It passes through some of the harshest terrain in Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal, including Sahara Desert dunes of up to 400 metres high.
Nicknamed ‘The Girl On A Bike’, Vanessa Ruck is renowned within the global motorsport community for her incredible courage, resilience and off-road motorbike-racing talent since recovering from a severe injury caused by being struck by a car while out cycling in 2014.
Nearly 10 years on from her accident, Vanessa said: “It’s like I’ve reclaimed control – up until now the toughest thing I’ve ever done was fight on following my accident, but now the hardest thing I’ve ever done is something I chose. It makes me feel so alive!”
Vanessa revealed to the Times that the toughest part of the race was the psychological side of the monumental challenge and the motivation to keep going after the third day when ‘your body is aching’ and there are still thousands of miles left to go. “You have to focus on one day at a time,” she said.
While tackling the long, gruelling days in the desert alone, Vanessa was supported by a team of three. Mechanically such a race requires considerable assistance which came in the form of Joe Mercer of Desert Rose Racing. She also had two friends, Anika Bailey and Keri-Anne Thurley to take care of her nutrition, welfare, filming for her social channels, and general psychological support.
As one of only 25 of the 46 riders in the motorbike category in the 2024 event managing to complete the whole course, Vanessa spent over 103 hours in total on her KTM 450 Rally Replica motorbike.
Vanessa finished the 13-day Sahara Desert race in 27th place overall but claimed first place in the women’s category.
She said that being the first British woman to complete the race is ‘an incredible feeling’.
She added: “It’s not often in life we get to break new territories in such a huge way. I feel proud and feel I’ve achieved something for the UK, but I also really hope I won’t be the only one for long.
“I hope my story inspires other women to tackle new challenges and realise it’s possible with hard work.”
Most racers would have likely had time off to rest following such a tough race, however, Vanessa travelled to Gambia for a week’s work supporting the charity, Two Wheels for Life.
She hopes to use her social media following to help share the story of the work they do within mobilising healthcare in Africa through the use of motorcycles.