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Meet Dakar on Two Wheels: How the Škoda Titan Desert Came to Be

By We Love Cycling

Not many annual MTB races boast such an unique and breathtaking environment as the Škoda Titan Desert Morocco. Set amidst the Saharan dunes and the Atlas Mountains, the race continues to mesmerise, make, and break riders year after year, even elevating some of them to Legend status. We Love Cycling caught up with Jesús Garcia, a CEO of the race’s organising body and a former six-time participant, to give us an insider’s view of its origins and development.

But first, a little primer.

The Škoda Titan Desert Morocco is a prestigious six-stage mountain bike race, held annually in Morocco’s Sahara Desert, that draws a diverse range of participants, including professional and amateur cyclists from all over the world. The event’s origin is actually intertwined with the Dakar Rally; the first edition was organized in 2006 and the race has since become one of the toughest and most challenging races globally. Among the roughly 5,500 participants over the years, viewers could have witnessed cycling legends such as Miguel Induráin, Anna Ramírez, Josep Betalú, Roberto Heras, Melchor Mauri and Sylvain Chavanel.

This year’s route of the Škoda Titan Desert Morocco, which will take place from April 30 to May 5, will start in the city of Boumalne Dades and finish in Maadid, with the riders crossing the Erg Chebbi dunes and the Jbel Ougnat mountain range. The route will cover a total distance of 625 kilometres, with over 7,000 metres of elevation, and the longest stage being 133.5 kilometres. The riders will have to face all stages unsupported while braving steep climbs, rocky descents, and massive sand dunes, as well as temperatures exceeding 40°C during the day. This, of course, creates a highly competitive and challenging atmosphere, but the race’s manifesto, describing the “Titan Spirit”, also encourages the riders to “selflessly help a companion“ and form friendships. On that note, at the end of each stage, the riders get to socialise and unwind in the famous huge overnight nomadic bivouac in the desert for about 700 participants.

Back to Jesús Garcia. With an academic background in Physical Activity and Sport Sciences, he is currently the President of Experientia S&E, CEO of MKTG Spain and RPM Sports, and partakes in the organisation of the Škoda Titan Desert Morocco. Before he became a part of the Titan team, Garcia completed six Škoda Titan Desert Morocco races between 2012 and 2019, thus accumulating 3,829 km in total, making himself a Titan Legend. So you could hardly find anyone better suited to guide us through the race’s evolution from multiple angles.

Škoda Titan Desert
Set between the formidable Atlas Mountains and the Sahara desert in Morocco, the unique mountain bike race has been taking breaths away from racers and spectators since 2006.

What is the biggest change you’ve observed in the race since its first edition in 2006?

The changes, as you can imagine, have been enormous. The first edition was an adventure for everyone, whether you were a participant or part of the organising team. Although we had a lot of experience and knew Morocco very well, we had never done an event of this type or with such complex operations. I would like to remind you that in 2006, events of this type were not as well-known and popular as they are today.

Nowadays, we can say that the Škoda Titan Desert Morocco has become a world reference event in MTB stage races. It has done so while retaining the spirit of adventure and self-improvement of the first edition with an additional greater sporting challenge, greater comfort and first-class services for competitors.

Perhaps the anecdote that best symbolises the change is that, in the first edition, the participants went totally into the unknown (in all senses), and today, there are many Titans who have the name of the race tattooed.

How different is your current role in the race compared to when you started out?

17 years ago, we dreamed of creating the ‘Dakar’ of mountain biking and we managed to take 150 riders to the Moroccan desert, a dream that came true. I later completed 3,500 km as a Titan Legend and I am currently the CEO of the company that takes hundreds of cyclists to discover the trails of Morocco, Almeria, Saudi Arabia, and other future destinations. All without losing the spirit of 2006.

Škoda Titan Desert
Since its first edition, the Titan Desert has seen over 5,000 racers joining the race, including the best Spanish cyclist of all time Miguel Induráin.

Which victory has been the most exciting for you? Do you have a favourite breathtaking racing moment?

I am proud of any victories that the winners of major cycling events, such as La Vuelta or the Tour de France, have had in the Titan – Roberto Heras, Oscar Pereiro or Cadel Evans himself. The favourite moment, without a doubt, is the riders’ arrival at the finish arch of the last stage where we hand over the finisher’s fossils (polished fossil stones obtained by Titans who complete the race) and the subsequent explosive feelings of joy of the hundreds of participants.

What are your wishes for future editions of the Titan Desert? Can it level up?

We dream of taking the great adventure to different continents, to involve MTB lovers in this concept of a race that mixes adventure, passion, and the effort of those who, one day, will become Titans. Obviously, the participant is the main protagonist, and we want to help them in the whole process by offering the highest possible quality.

In your opinion, what draws riders to such an extremely demanding event? What’s the unique “spirit” of the Titan Desert?

The first thing that seduces the Titans is the environment, the imposing Moroccan desert. It can be tremendously hostile but, at the same time, it could become the ideal setting for overcoming the most important challenge of their sporting life and, possibly also for some, personal life. Cycling for hours and hours in the desert puts you, sooner or later, at the limit and that is where a part of you emerges that you didn’t even know you had until that very moment. Many Titans have literally told us that this adventure has changed the way they see life. It is a week in which the spirit of sacrifice and the Titans’ capacity for self-improvement reach superlative and unsuspected levels.

Another aspect that makes the Škoda Titan Desert Morocco unique is the “Titan Spirit”. It is not visible, it has no corporeality, but it is present in all the camps of the race. It is camaraderie, it is companionship, it is solidarity, it is a “today for you and tomorrow for me”. It is the joy with fellow adventurers after crossing each finish line and it is sharing the experiences of the day before, preparing together for the next one. The Škoda Titan Desert Morocco is the best experience that combines sport and coexistence for 24 hours a day between people who share the same passion: a mountain-bike marathon.

We will be updating you with fresh news during the whole course of Škoda Titan Desert Morocco between April 30 and May 5. So, save the date!