When his factory Honda CRF450 Rally suddenly stopped, Ricky Brabec was only 56 kilometers into the eighth stage of the 2019 Dakar Rally. Knowing the engine was broken, Brabec didn't attempt to fix the bike.

Stéphane Peterhansel slowed to make sure Brabec was okay, but when the 27-year-old Californian gave him a thumbs-up, the 13-time Dakar winner sped toward the next checkpoint in his Mini.

It was a moment of despair for Brabec to experience alone.

Brabec had surprised even the veterans of the bivouac with his determination and speed this year. Third on day 1, second on day 2, he won the fourth stage and took the lead of the general motorcycle classification.

Brabec was soon seen differently by his rivals, beginning with his Monster Energy Honda teammates. “This American is taking it seriously, man!” they said.

Brabec sensed something important was happening. The experienced Johnny Campbell—Brabec’s faithful tutor and friend—was by his side, providing the mental support needed during the long, lonely, difficult stages.

Nearly eight minutes in front of the Yamaha of Adrien van Beveren and 8 minutes and 28 seconds ahead of Toby Price on a KTM were enough to nurture hopes that Brabec might make history. Then, silence.

What were you thinking when your bike stopped?

Not even a fraction of a second was enough to dissipate my dream of becoming the first American to win the Dakar. I wanted to cry, to scream in my helmet, but I was alone in the desert so I remained calm.

How long were you alone?

Twenty, maybe 25, minutes before the rescue helicopter with Dakar Rally Race Director Etienne Lavigne arrived.

You looked very determined from the start in Lima, Peru. Did you change something in your preparation?

This year, I trained more on the bike rather than in the gym. I cannot count how many kilometers I covered riding with Johnny Campbell, Jimmy Lewis, and Andrew Short.

And mentally?

I arrived with high expectations, higher than usual. I had trained so hard. I felt like this was the year. The motivation to make history becoming the first American rider to win the Dakar was pushing me, giving me the extra boost.

Ricky Brabec
Asked about his racing plans for the rest of the year, American Ricky Brabec said, “I will do the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship and some big races at home with Johnny Campbell.”Courtesy of Honda

How did you feel leading the race?

Nervous. There is always a doubt when you lead the Dakar. You know that a small mistake can cost you the race. It was hard to control the nerves that go on in your body. I was shaking at the thought of bringing back home the trophy. It would have been awesome. I was dreaming of it the whole week.

You were considered the revelation of this Dakar. Did you feel a bit underestimated?

Yes, I have always been underestimated within the team. I felt there has always been a battle with my teammates. I had to prove my skills and, with the results, the atmosphere changed. With good vibes from the team and confidence, you can do great things.

Raul Castells, the Monster Energy Honda team manager, confirmed that your status in the team has changed.

I will be back even stronger. I did my best every day. I was nervous to be up there, but I showed that I was able to prove it, so I’m feeling much more confident now.