Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 September 2019

A two-week love affair 18 years ago has never ended for Mohammed Al Balooshi

The Emirati will be challenging the dunes of the Rub Al Khali this week, riding a KTM 450 Rally Replica under the “Ride to Abu Dhabi Rally Team” flag in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
Mohammed Al Balooshi will be challenging the dunes of the Rub Al Khali this week, riding a KTM 450 Rally Replica under the “Ride to Abu Dhabi Rally Team” flag in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. Courtesy photo
Mohammed Al Balooshi will be challenging the dunes of the Rub Al Khali this week, riding a KTM 450 Rally Replica under the “Ride to Abu Dhabi Rally Team” flag in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. Courtesy photo

Strange are the ways of love. Take, for example, Mohammed Al Balooshi’s now unbreakable bond with his bike. It all started during a two-week spring break, when he was 18, and it all started a lot later than it did for most of his peers.

“I swear when I started, my aim was to do this just for two weeks in the spring break,” said the 36-year-old Emirati, the fourth seed at this year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

“I just wanted to try something new because I have done a lot of sport in my life. I told my friends, ‘let’s do this for the spring break, it’s nice weather … just for two weeks’, and we all agreed.”

Those two weeks have never ended for Al Balooshi, who was the top privateer in the rankings last season after finishing sixth in the championship. He will be challenging the dunes of the Rub Al Khali this week, riding a KTM 450 Rally Replica under the “Ride to Abu Dhabi Rally Team” flag.

Read more on the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge:

Qatari driver Nasser Al Attiyah grabs early advantage on Day 1 of Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi to ‘fight for top position’ at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

Vladimir Vasilyev ‘chasing our dreams’ of third successive Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge title

This is your fifth appearance at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. What are your expectations going into this year’s race?

For me, I am really excited and honoured to be a part of this championship, among all these big names. So I am really looking forward to competing and just to do well, do better than last year and the previous years.

I have worked a lot and I would really like to thank all the people who are rallying behind me. That gives me even more confidence because when I see they believe in me, that is always a confidence-booster.

This year we have Abu Dhabi Sports Council on board, Yahsat again, Thuraya, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Red Bull as usual, Oakley, 2XU and GoPro. Without their support, it would have been very difficult for me to be here. So I am really excited and hopefully I will do well and do justice to all the hard work I put in.

You had a good year last year. Are you hoping to take it to the next level in 2016? It feels like everything is moving in the right direction for me. So the feeling and energy I am coming in with this year is much better than last year and hopefully everything goes well. Last year I finished sixth in the world. I think that was a big achievement. I won three stages in Egypt, which is also a part of the world championship, and I would like to win at least one stage here in my home country. That would be very special.

What is your favourite part of the ADDC? I would say the dunes ... always the dunes. Nothing can top that. We have dunes back in Dubai, but Liwa is different, man. It’s a completely different ball game.

Very different to where it all started for you? That was nothing if you compare it to Liwa. I thought I had seen it all until I saw Liwa. It’s really breathtaking and riding through the Liwa desert is quite a challenge.

When did your love affair with bikes start? It actually started when I was a kid, but I did not have the chance until I was 18. I am a late starter, but here we are today. I remember me picking up the sport just to play around with the bike for two weeks, and the two weeks never finished.

What did your family have to say when those two weeks did not come to an end? You know our culture and our society, and at that time it was very difficult to do any sort of sport and get away with it without them nagging you and telling you stuff. But after some time, when they realised I am good at it and this is what makes me happy, they became my No 1 supporters. They were my No 1 supporters during winning championships and through injuries. They understood this guy is not going to change, so might as well support him.

In your long career, what have been your favourite places to ride? Being from the UAE, I would say the desert. But the strange thing is when I took part in the Dakar and rode through non-familiar terrain, I know I was not the fastest, but I had this nice feeling and had no problems getting on top of things. I mastered the bike on a terrain that I am not used to, so that also sticks out. I remember it gave me that sense of accomplishment.

Talking about cross country, how do you keep your focus on those long stretches of barren land? For me, it’s the best time. Honestly, when you are on the bike, on your own, you are in that zone. Just you, your bike and the desert. Nothing can come close to that experience. It’s just amazing – you are one with the bike and it’s so peaceful. Luckily, it still does not feel like a job, although I have been a professional for 12 years. I am still in love with it, like I was on day one 18 years ago. I feel the same sensations. I can feel my pulse racing. The day I don’t feel that, I stop. But I don’t see it going away anytime soon.

As you grow professionally the pressure will increase as well. How do you unwind?

Training. For me, it’s just training. When you train, all the doubts and anxiety just vanish. If you don’t train, it just builds up. You get doubts. So for me, the more I train, the more relaxed I feel. I don’t know if that makes sense, but this is how it has been for me for so many years. Sometimes, I would have a rest day, but then the anxiety would kick in and I would just go running or something.

You have three children. Do you they not harass you for more time?

I am making a lot of sacrifices. This sport occupies a lot of my time and really, my family time is also used up by this sport. So yes, I want to do well and when the time comes, I hope I will give some of this time back to them.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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Updated: April 4, 2016 04:00 AM

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