The Baja 1000 is renowned as one of the most difficult, most grueling off-road races on the planet. To finish is something to brag about, even if you're a pro with a purpose-built racing vehicle and a full support crew. But there are no words for what one guy did at this year's race: Show up on a damaged, used bike with no pit crew, no course knowledge, and somehow still finish.
Wouter-Jan Van Dijk, a Dutchman living in Australia, entered this year's SCORE International Baja 1000 in the Pro Moto Ironman class—that's one rider, one bike, and more than 1,300 miles. He entered at the suggestion of a friend, Shane Moss, who had competed in the 2019 race according to a transcription of a SCORE interview by The Checkered Flag. Van Dijk had plenty of enduro (long-distance cross-country riding) under his belt, and he thought the Baja sounded like fun.
"My mate’s done it before in 2019," Van Dijk said. "We were planning to do it again and maybe doing it with a team, then he said, 'why don’t you do it Ironman if you can? You reckon you can?' I was like, 'I guess I can.'"
That was only six months ago, and Van Dijk reportedly began preparing in earnest only a month ago, when he asked his fellow racers on social media for help shipping tires. He then flew to San Diego, bought a used KTM 500 EXC off Craigslist, and rode it across the Mexico border to La Paz. All he had with him were his buddy Moss and some saddlebags carrying the bare minimum of supplies. Even those might've been a little much, though.
By the time Van Dijk and Moss reached the starting point, they found the bike's subframe was cracked. (Van Dijk suspects the extra weight did it.) They tracked down a welder, and with the help of fellow racers were able to fix the bike and replace its worn-out tires in time to start the race. Van Dijk of course hadn't had a chance to pre-run the route, reportedly lacked a GPS, and would be starting his first ever SCORE International race in the dead of night.
So how do you think he did?
Well, as of the first checkpoint at 233 miles, he was first in class, and by mile marker 599 he was still running second. Because Van Dijk could only carry so much, he reportedly had to get resourceful to fuel himself along with his bike, stopping at convenience stores and allegedly scarfing down food his fellow racers shared.
With less than 100 miles to go in the race, Van Dijk's stellar navigation system fell off and he damaged a wheel, bending it so far it wouldn't hold air. While his back was turned at his next pit stop, his fellow racers zip-tied the tire to the wheel so tightly that it still could hold air.
"I didn't even know they were doing it," Van Dijk said. "I went to the map to look at it, and before I knew it, they filled the tank and started zip tying the wheel and all over the bike."
By the time they were finished, the clock was counting up toward the race's 50-hour limit. Van Dijk reached the line in time, finishing with a time of 48:27:03 including penalties. That he finished seventh of nine in his class is secondary: He still finished, with less support than anyone else in the race.
"It is definitely a challenge and especially being awake that long," Van Dijk said. "You just get a bit weird riding and doing everything. I've been half a zombie for the last five hours and in the last bit I woke up and was like, 'if I want to finish, I need to put some bearings on it because otherwise I'm probably not going to make it.' Luckily, the rain stopped for a bit and I could ride a bit faster. I’m happy I made it in the end."
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