One in a billion CS Santosh unfurls tiranga at Dakar’s finish line. First Indian to do so.
CS Santosh recently eclipsed the epitome of endurance racing – the Dakar. And if you’re unaware of that then you’ve either been living under a rock or a mountain. Over the years, Santosh has unquestionably been India’s best rider. His humble demeanor might not state it, but the trophy cabinet at this home speaks volumes about his accomplishments. There is barely a title or an accolade in the Indian motorsport scene that he hasn’t won. And to add to that glittering cabinet he will now have the shiniest piece of metal that he’s ever won – the finisher’s medallion no. 436/550 of Dakar 2015. But this crown jewel didn’t come easy. It took him a broken toe, a hand protector, a drenched airbox, multiple cuts and bruises, several swollen limbs and some real nerves of steel; for this dream to be realized.
We decided to catch up with the strong guy to know more about those nerves of steel that became a big deal of the Red Bull Kini paddock during Dakar. As we began our conversation, we could guess that the 31-year-old was highly jetlagged and exhausted after his superhuman feat. But as soon as we asked him “So was it like?” his tonality changed. Though he is not at his 100%, you could feel the passion, the exuberance and the adrenaline of the Dakar in his voice. Ever since he landed in India 24 hours back, several journalists has asked him several things about the trip. It almost seems like each and every time he tells his story, he relives his entire trip once again.
This is what the athletic-built Bangalore lad had to say about his little voyage across South America:
Santosh, when you unfurled the flag at the provisional start, what was going through your head?
I couldn’t believe it at first. Only at the start I realized that I was representing the entire nation. It was only at that moment the feeling sunk it that I was representing such a huge population on my own.
It was about 4:30-5 AM during one my transports when I thought that I could actually finish this. At that time, I cried inside my helmet. I thought of all the sacrifices that I had to make and that hardwork that I had to do to reach where I am. It was a very emotional moment for me.
So what was the first thing that came to your mind after finishing it?
I didn’t feel anything at that time; I was too exhausted. In fact, I had thought crossed my mind few days before I actually finished it. It was about 4:30-5 AM during one my transports when I thought that I could actually finish this. At that time, I cried inside my helmet. I thought of all the sacrifices that I had to make and that hardwork that I had to do to reach where I am. It was a very emotional moment for me.
Can you describe the atmosphere there?
It’s larger than life. There’s so much of madness, one just can’t imagine; it really hits you in Argentina. There, people are lined up for hundreds of kilometers. Even during the transport, the people are lined up at the side of the track – hundreds of thousands of them. The scale and the magnitude of this event is simply unbelievable.
You gave your tyres to Marc Coma. How did that happen?
During the second marathon stage, Marc only had a small margin of lead over his closest competitor. Marc decided to go for aggressive strategy and go all out. In the process, his tyres were worn out by the end of the stage. He was fighting for the victory and hence I decided to give him my tyres. This team has done a lot for me. The least I can do is be a team player and help the team.
So, how was it riding next to Marc? Was there any extra pressure on you?
To borrow the clichéd phrase: It was a dream come true for me. You’ve seen this rider on the screen and now when suddenly you’re there with him, you can’t imagine that you’re in that same circle as one of them. It felt surreal!
And no, there was no pressure on me. Alex – head of KTM – told me that I need to come back every night. So that’s what I did, I listened to his advice and I brought the bike back at the end of each stage.
How is it working with the Red Bull Kini team?
It’s fantastic! Mr. Kini was there at the Dakar. I believe, it was the 7th Day when he arrived. And that was the first time that I got a chance to meet him. He was happy for me. He sat down and chatted with me for quite a while. Despite being such a big personality, he is a very genuine and humble person. Working with his team has absolutely amazing.
Which was the toughest stage for you?
The Bolivia stage was the toughest one. It was raining and freezing. I almost got wiped out by a raging river. I was fine but the bike took the entire brunt. It took me 30 minutes to start it back up. On top of that, all my clothes were drenched. I had to rely on the local authorities who lent me local clothes while my riding gear dried. At the end of that stage, I couldn’t even walk, I had to be carried off.
How did you manage to break your toe?
I was riding behind couple of other riders. Since I was riding in the dust clouds, I decided to get ahead of them so I could get a clear track. The roads on that segment were washed away; and in the road book, they had mentioned that section as “Triple Caution.” I missed reading it and went too fast; I ended up on the floor with my toe getting crushed under the bike. This happened fairly early in the stage around 15 km. mark, and hence, I had to ride the next 300 km. with a broken toe.
While your toe was broken and you were in pain, did you at any point thought of giving it up and retiring from the race?
I had gone there with a fighting attitude. I’ve have had few really bad accidents in the past and hence, now I know what it takes to survive. I had decided that I would keep going till my body lasted.
What was your mental state during the last stage of the race when you were on the home stretch?
I really enjoyed myself during the last three stages. I love riding fast and in the second last stage, I managed to finish as high as 31. I had a great flow in the last 3-4 stages. In fact, at that time I had already started to think, “What will I do after Dakar? How will I spend my time? I would really miss it.”
So, what’s next?
A lot of things were riding on this (Dakar). Now that it’s over, I’m already looking forward to the next year. This year I finished in 30s. Next time I’ll try to finish it in 20s. I will try to progress each year.
It’d take two statements to describe it: Adventure of a lifetime. Stories for a lifetime.