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Laia Sanz: “Everybody respect me now”

Texto: Luis Fernando Romo. Fotos: Luis F. Romo y DPPI / Honda

When she was just two years old, Laia Sanz’s father already sat her on the petrol tank of his motorbike. For any other kid it would have been just a game but for her it was to be the first step towards glory. After achieving ninth position in the demanding 2015 Dakar Rally, among other titles, she admits she still needs to overcome many sexist barriers in the world of motorsports.

The Catalonian driver Laia Sanz already has an impressive sporting record: she has already won the Women’s World Trial Championship 13 times, the Women’s European Trial Championships 10 times, and has 5 victories in the Female motorcycle category of the Dakar Rally, 3 titles in the Women’s Enduro World Championships, 3 gold medals in Women’s Enduro X Games and an absolute 9th position in the 2015 Dakar Rally.

When she was seven her parents enrolled her in her first race in her hometown, Corberá de Llobregat (Barcelona). And from that moment on she has strictly followed the family’s motto ‘Who has the will has the strength’: “My dad gave me a bracelet with this sentence and since then I have worn it each time I have a race”, she says smiling after coming back from the Dakar, the hardest rally in the world.

Do you consider yourself to be super-gifted?

Not at all! What I have achieved has been thanks to a lot of effort, work and sacrifice. I have some facility for sport in general, but especially riding motorbikes.

If you go on like this you will become the first woman to win the Dakar.

I am aware that I won’t win it on a motorbike, because women have some physical shortcomings than men don’t have. Who knows what can happen, but where I do have the possibility of winning is in a car. It is not easy to be given a chance like that, but I still have a lot to give in sports and I hope to get the opportunity

Gemma Mengual is called ‘Barcelona’s Mermaid’, Carolina Herrera ‘New York’s Queen’ and you ‘Corbera’s Meteorite’, ‘The Iron Lady’, ‘Dakar’s Queen’ or ‘Lady Dakar’. Some times, these nicknames can be detrimental to women because in some articles the full name and surname of the person achieving the feat is not specified.

I don’t pay much attention to these nicknames, but what it is true is that we are not given the same importance as men. A boy with the same track record as me would have less problems, he would have to prove his worth less, he would get more support from more brands, and I have to work for it much more than a man.

Where do you leave your ego, parked with the motorbike?

I have more pride than ego. Some times I am even told I should have more self-esteem and believe in myself more, but as soon as I put the helmet on, it is like I am transformed.

What has been the most serious accident you have had so far?

During a competition in Italy I noticed I had hurt myself, but I didn’t give it too much importance. But when I realised there was blood I feared the worse. I still had one hour and a half of the race left, I was risking victory in the first Enduro World Championship, and I put all I had in to achieve it. I finished the race in first place, and when I removed my boots, my big toe was hanging off, smashed.

The world of motorcycle racing is still associated, unfortunately, to men. How to you face chauvinism?

Sometimes it discourages me because I feel I have to prove double, but well, unfortunately this is something I am used to already. It has made me become stronger and harder. I have gone through more bad times than boys, and that hardens you. But now everybody respects me.

Have you ever had to move forward with your head down?

No. And I don’t regret anything. At the beginning I was affected by chauvinist comments, but now I have learnt to laugh at them, and to think that if they talk about me so much it is just because they are envious, and if that the reason, then I must have done something right. I have learnt to transform negative energy into a positive motivation.

What do you value more in face-to-face interaction?

Honesty, sincerity and respect. And in this little world there is a lot of envy and people that are nice to you but stab you behind your back. They try to fuck you over and that angers me.

So is your line of work like the ballet world, when an envious dancer puts nails in their opponent’s shoes?

They don’t break your motorbike, but if they can put obstacles in the way, they do. Being a woman I am in the spotlight more and this bothers some people. So, they try to attack.