Qatari 'Superman' al-Attiyah ready to flex Dakar muscles in Saudi

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Toyota driver Nasser Al-Attiyah
Toyota driver Nasser Al-Attiyah

Qatari Dakar rally driver Nasser al-Attiyah has prepared for the race's second edition in Saudi Arabia with a strict training regimen to build muscle adapted to coronavirus restrictions.

Staged in Africa between 1979 and 2007, the world's most famous rally shifted to the mountainous terrain of South America between 2009 and 2019.

Attiyah won the reincarnated race in 2011, 2015 and 2019.

The rally's transfer to Saudi Arabia in 2020 returned 50-year-old Attiyah to the Gulf desert environment he knew best, having been born in Doha, the Qatari capital.

"I adopted a different physical programme which concentrated on building muscle," he told AFP ahead of the competition which gets underway on Saturday and lasts until January 16.

Along with his French co-driver Mathieu Baumel, "we trained according to the countries holding Dakar", he said.

As a result of lockdown rules in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the champion driver was forced to adapt his preparation.

"I have a simulator at home and a sports room which allows me to stay in the rallying atmosphere," Attiyah said.

Behind the wheel of his Toyota, Attiyah came second at Dakar 2020, the first edition of the race staged on the Arabian peninsula, behind Spain's Carlos Sainz (Mini) and ahead of Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel (Mini).

Attiyah is a potent symbol of the rise of Qatar, the small Gulf emirate which in a matter of decades has transformed itself into a sporting powerhouse.

Before training at the vast Aspire sporting academy in Doha, Attiyah had struggled during his younger years to finance his dream of becoming a winning racing driver.

"The programme varied between cycling 100 to 150 kilometres daily, running, and other exercises," he said.

Nicknamed "Superman" by his compatriots for his ability to "dance on the sand dunes", he has been Middle East champion on 16 occasions, won 75 regional competitions, three editions of Dakar and lifted the all-terrain rally world cup four times.

Despite his success at the wheel, he also turns his hand to Olympic skeet shooting.

Attiyah is now preparing for the virus-delayed 2021 Olympics after securing fourth-place at the Athens Games in 2004 and bronze at London 2012.

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