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His last road to Dakar #4: “I’m glad to have been a part of this Rally Dakar”

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His last road to Dakar #4: “I’m glad to have been a part of this Rally Dakar”

We followed Jurgen van den Goorbergh in his run up to his final Rally Dakar entry; his final attempt at winning the Malle Moto class. Obviously we’re very curious as to how the Dutchman got on in 2018’s rally. The former MotoGPTM rider spills his guts on the hardship of the most grueling rally raid in the world.

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Jurgen van den Goorbergh (NED) Dakar 2018 © Shakedown Team

First of all, congratulations! You’ve made it to the finish line, coming 41st. You have to be proud, right?
“It turned out to be a good end to my Dakar career. Well, the last try on a motorcycle anyway. Who knows, I might go back one day, just not on two wheels; no way. I’m glad to have been a part of this Rally Dakar, though. It was a tough one, but a good one as well. It kind of makes me proud, knowing I made it to the end on a bike I’ve built. That makes it that bit more special, even though I didn’t quite finish too high up on the leader boards because of it. I had to be careful, because above all I wanted to finish. Breaking down was not really an option. That did mean I didn’t quite come out as well as I had originally intended. I blocked that out very quickly. I came here to fight for the Malle Moto class title, but just six days in I realized that was a bridge too far. After that, I didn’t really care anymore where I’d finish. It turned out to be 41st in the end, which I’m content with. For me personally, I felt I rode a good rally, not making too many mistakes; keeping the bike in one piece. And in the end my KTM didn’t miss a beat. In hindsight I know I could’ve been faster, but I really wanted to get the bike to the finish line at all costs. That I did, so!”

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Jurgen van den Goorbergh (NED) Dakar 2018 © Shakedown Team

The bike made it out unscathed, but we can’t really say that about you physically, can we?
“Yeah, for me Dakar is far from over. The aftershocks are coming through in waves, because I’m suffering from a nasty neck injury still. On stage 11 I had a spill taking on a fast dune. At the bottom it flattened out quickly and I had a knoll of camel grass. You come across thousands of those in the desert and normally they’re quite soft. This one wasn’t. As my rear wheel hit it, I went off. I’ve got a nice mark from my front wheel across my helmet, so I guess I should be lucky it didn’t hit me square in the face. I wasn’t even going too fast when it happened, but it was still quite a hard hit. It immediately took me back to my entry last year, when a relatively small crash caused me to withdraw from the race. I got up right away and felt my neck had taken the brunt of it. Plus I was quite dizzy, too. And I had landed on my back as well, something I found out as the contents of my camel back was dripping down my pants. I had only done around fifty kilometers of the stage, so now I was going to have to finish the stage without water. I managed to bargain a bottle of water off a couple of locals, but that meant I had to stop every time I needed to rehydrate. Every single chance I got to get myself a drink, I took. Stopping at the roadside wasn’t my concern at this point; I was more worried about possible broken bones. After I did my own physical check-up, it turned out all was well on that front. Think about it, having to withdraw with only a few days left because you took a slight tumble and broke your collarbone. Anyway, I had hoped my neck would start to get a bit less sore as the days went by. Unfortunately, that really wasn’t the case. It only got worse in fact, so I stocked up on quite a bit of painkillers and got on with it. On the second to last day I woke up and could barely lift my head up. That is not good, I thought. That rally shouldn’t have lasted for much longer, because I don’t think I would have been able to keep going for much longer.”

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Jurgen van den Goorbergh (NED) Dakar 2018 © Shakedown Team

You’ve been home for a week now. How’s the pain in the neck going?
“Not too good, unfortunately, and I don’t even know what’s exactly going on in there. I’ve had appointments at a chiropractor and had X-rays made as well. No fractures, luckily, but no clear image of what’s exactly wrong with my neck at this point. I’ve got an MRI planned for tomorrow, so by then I hope to know more. Looks like a pinched nerve, because I’ve got a tingling sensation in my forearm. All I know now is, things are not as they should be. It’s driving me crazy to be fair, certainly because it was the smallest of spills.”

Back to the rally. All contestants agreed this was a big one. Would you say it was tough?
“Definitely. I’ve faced hardship before, like when I first rode the Malle Moto class, but this was one technical rally. In Malle Moto you get it doubly bad, because it’s all up to you. That alone takes thirty to forty percent of your energy during the rally. I reckon this year’s winner, Olivier Pain, would certainly concur. He used to be a works rider, so top ten finishes are a regularity. This time around he had to give it his all just to make it within spitting distance of the top 25 that says a lot to me. I spoke to him a couple of times during the rally, and he told me he really enjoyed experiencing the rally this way. His eyes, however, told a different story; this to him was a one-off. You won’t be seeing him back in Malle Moto, no way! It’s a different game altogether Malle Moto, and completely different from what he’s used to. Top tier riders start every day fresh, only suffering from the rally stages themselves. As a Malle Moto rider you come out of a stage, only to have to piece your bike back together until around midnight. And then you have to get back up at four in the morning. That takes a toll, especially when you’re expected to give it your all again the next day. Malle Moto really just wrecks you.”

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Jurgen van den Goorbergh (NED) Dakar 2018 © Shakedown Team

Which stages or areas will stay with you the most; what made the biggest impression?
“I took on the challenge one more time because the organizers had taken Peru back into the rally. That country has the most beautiful dunes, as the organizers promised us. It all came together. It was daunting, but beautiful. That shows the effect a man like Marc Coma (Director of Sport at organizer ASO) has on the rally. Last year he showed it here and there, but now he really put things back on the map. As a former entrant and winner, he knows how to make the rally as grueling as it should be. Every single time you think things couldn’t get harder, they take it one step beyond. Take the second to last stage for instance. You can all but see the finish line, only to face off on the longest day of the lot. Marc Coma kicks you out of bed and on the bike at 5.30 am, onto a stage that won’t see you back in the bivouac until nine in the afternoon, just before sunset. Just ride from sunrise until sunset. I can tell you, that made me long for the finish even more.”

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Jurgen van den Goorbergh (NED) Dakar 2018 © Shakedown Team

In 2016 you took home the Malle Moto title and this year you had high hopes to reclaim it, only to finish fourth in the end. That has to bum you out, doesn’t it?
“I was sort of expecting to be at least on the podium, yes. Not sure if it all just came down to Olivier Pain being so fast, but in the end that’s not what it’s all about in the Rally Dakar. By the third stage I had to help out my friend Kees Koolen, because his quad bike had broken its chain. I couldn’t just leave Kees by the side of the road, so that cost me half an hour to about 45 minutes. Over an entire Rally Dakar, that’s something you could clean up on, but in the end I didn’t manage to do so. I started to fall behind, and trying to up ground only saw me make more mistakes. Missing a waypoint for instance or having to help yet another fellow rider. In the 2016 rally I had locked in to an upward spiral that was definitely not the case this time around. I had this sort of neutral like feeling about me.”

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Jurgen van den Goorbergh (NED) Dakar 2018 © Shakedown Team

You rode a self-made bike, based off a KTM 450 EXC-F. How did people respond to that?
“It hasn’t gone unnoticed, I can tell you that. More than once others sought me out in the bivouac to come and see it. It’s a quite different from the regular rally replica bikes; mine’s built quite a bit lighter. Technically I’ve had no problems, so I’m content about that. The bike stood tall, even though I might’ve been able to go faster on it. I tried to keep my cool, but the bike would not have minded bit more push and shove. I did miss a bit more speed and stability here and there, though my bike was better when it came to handling. Truth be told, I could’ve done a better job on a KTM 450 RALLY REPLICA. My bike is perfect for amateurs who struggle making it into the top fifty. When you lack skill a bit, a lighter bike that handles well really helps. Especially in tough editions like this one. I’m not yet sure about how I’m going forward with the project. I guess I might build a few more but nothing’s set in stone yet.”

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Jurgen van den Goorbergh (NED) Dakar 2018 © Shakedown Team

You take on a daunting ride through the depths of hell for two weeks, as Malle Moto riders even more so, that has to form an unbreakable bond of friendship among rider, doesn’t it?
“You make some amazing memories along the way. Not just literally on route, but when you get off the bike the adventure doesn’t stop. One such special moment was when I spent the night with the other two Dutch Malle Moto riders, Hans-Jos Liefhebber and Edwin Straver. In the bivouac at Tupiza we were told stage 9 was canceled, and we were required to ride on through to Salta in Argentina. Just another 500 kilometers to do after a pretty hefty ride on stage that day. We did get underway, but just after crossing the border from Bolivia into Argentina we decided to grab a hotel somewhere. Three guys in one room; it was actually – as we say in Dutch – gezellig. It was fun. After a hot shower we went and found ourselves a pizza place. Unfortunately we didn’t have any clean clothes on us, so there’s the three of us in some random pizzeria in stinking MX-gear; brilliant stuff! I felt just like some tourist. Those are the little extra’s you get from the Dakar. Same goes for meeting Juan Agustin Rojo, a young Argentinian rider who was riding the Malle Moto class for the first time. It’s a very skinny kid who had to really push himself to make it to the end of the race, but in the end he did just that. I spoke to him every night, trying to keep his spirits up and to advise him wherever he might need it. It really showed character how he got on; you can say it was a heroic effort on his part. I really felt like a father figure; like a father and a son taking on the Dakar together. Those are moments that stick by you. They’re a part of what makes the Rally Dakar special. You’ll never ever forget those memories.”

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Jurgen van den Goorbergh (NED) Dakar 2018 © Shakedown Team

Photos: Shakedown Team


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      Red Bull KTM selected Vialle, son of former GP racer Frederic, from a small shortlist for 2019. One day of riding and talking with KTM MX Manager Joel Smets was enough to convince the former five times world champion that #28 could be a worthy addition to the squad. “Of course, we kept an eye on him in 2018 but I did not talk to the family that much …,” Smets admits. “I’ve been working with him now since November 1 and I can see there is physically a good base and he has real potential. I can see how his body recovers from training that there is a decent progression margin. He has good style, very smooth. It seems like he should push a bit more but then you look at the stopwatch and you think ‘oh!’”
      Tom Vialle (FRA) & Joel Smets (BEL) Lacapelle Marival International Motocross (FRA) 2019 © P. Haudiquert
      A small clue as to Vialle’s ability to adapt was revealed through his placement as part of the Lieber KTM Team in EMX250 and from a privateer Husky effort. He quickly began to develop thanks to the support and setup around him. “He made big progress with the Lieber team,” says Gruebel. “I remember watching him riding a sand track at the beginning of 2018 and it wasn’t too impressive but then he spent some time with the Liebers in the Belgium area and really stepped up his training. Everywhere he went with us this winter then there was no problem.”
      Watch Vialle ride a motorcycle and his technique and ability is immediately obvious. His slight and small frame could be seen as a limitation in his first season but it is also an advantage in the MX2 class where bike power is at a premium and a rider’s weight and stature is part of the competitive package. The rider, the team and his family are working on his race stamina; Tom is aware of the importance of the physical side: “The physical level is really important and MX2 is ten minutes more each race compared to the EMX. I had some good training in the winter with Joel. I know that after five Grands Prix it will start getting better and better.” Vialle has his pros but there are other positive traits that are harder to see.
      Tom Vialle (FRA) KTM 250 SX-F Pietramurata (ITA) 2019 © Ray Archer
      Understandably coming into 2019 Vialle was facing scrutiny before a wheel had turned in Argentina for the first round. Some riders wait their whole career for an opportunity with an outfit like KTM: A team that has won the MX2 World Championship eleven times in the last fifteen years and with eight different riders. “We have seen other guys who have felt the pressure of the tent,” says Gruebel of the reality of existing and working under the official orange awning. For Vialle – surprisingly – the pressure and the expectancy was not a hindrance or an obstacle. If it was then he didn’t show it. In fact, his maiden podium result came at the British Grand Prix and the very first round in Europe with the added crowd, industry presence and harsher spotlight compared to the relatively isolated surroundings in Patagonia.
      “In the same way that Jorge can leave you open-mouthed with what he can do on the bike I am the same way with Tom and how he has dealt with the ‘factory circus’,” Smets voices. “He is so relaxed and I thought internally he might be really nervous for his debut but … it was crazy: I think I was more excited and anxious than he was in Argentina! It’s impressive and it is an important talent as well.”
      Tom Vialle (FRA) KTM 250 SX-F Neuquen (ARG) 2019 © Ray Archer
      Vialle’s demeanor is also about belief derived from a vital winter of preparation. It was a whirlwind of discovery and learning but it also shaped his orientation for the races. In this respect Smets, Gruebel and his staff have curated a fine egg. “He has stayed really cool,” the German opines. “He did some tests in the winter and I did not want to overrun him with too many possibilities for the bike. We went step-by-step and he has a good package. If he is ready for something extra and more advanced as we go on then we will take more steps but he needs to grow into that first and get comfortable in the team.”
      “We know he can go fast with what we have given him, and sometimes new riders can get lost if you give them too much to go in their own way. Firstly, he needs to live up to the abilities of the bike and then we can do more. He is demanding and he knows what he wants.”
      Tom Vialle (FRA) KTM 250 SX-F Matterley Basin (GBR) 2019 © Ray Archer
      Don’t underestimate the role and experience of the team in smoothing Vialle’s transition to Grand Prix life. For Gruebel and co the rookie was a different type of project after concentrating on world championship winning pedigree for at least half a decade with Herlings, Tixier, Jonass and Prado. “It cannot be like that every year where you are spoilt by having two title contenders!” Gruebel smiles. “We need to take care of the youngsters and Tom is one of those now but I think he will live up to the billing. It is still exciting because winning is really nice but sometimes also the way to win is just as nice. It is our job to guide and help riders and it is great to see how some develop.”
      Vialle had to contend with a factory bike and while the emphasis has been more on acclimatization rather than development it was still a different set of tools for the youngster to deal with. “On the suspension and the engine; it was not easy to get used to,” he says. “I had to learn a lot about it.”
      “I judge a rider by how hungry they are to get on the bike and if you change something then how they can feel it and give feedback,” Gruebel adds. “If you have a guy that gives good feedback quickly then it is easier to get them moving faster forward because you know the direction. Tom was pretty easy with that.”
      Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team Matterley Basin (GBR) 2019 © Ray Archer
      From Vialle’s side the presence of his dad and family – the people who were key and central to his racing before the KTM chance arose – is another factor. Red Bull KTM have witnessed different types of family scenarios; some overbearing parents, some the opposite. With the Vialles the chemistry seems to be promising. “Tom had a good education and is a nice person but he is also very realistic and humble,” says Smets. “They knew from the first day when the contract was signed that this was just the start, and they were not at the top yet. They have their feet on the ground.”
      “It is something very different for the family,” Frederic Vialle observes. “Last year we had a stock bike and were on a privateer team, just me and Tom. So, a factory team is very different: two mechanics, Dirk, Joel and the winter training, living in Lommel … I just keep an eye on Tom now because the organization around him is so good.”
      “Many riders have pressure but we look at it like we have a very good team and a very good motorcycle – the KTM is very fast – and with these tools if you have a good rider then he should make a good result,” he understates.
      “The family situation helps a lot,” stresses Smets. “Even in my day racing I could see how situations with parents could go very wrong and then since retiring and watching young kids then a lot more. Ok, it’s not easy to be a mum or dad of a sports guy that is at a high level but the Vialles are very stable and they know that hard work is the only way to ‘get there’. It is not flashy bikes or equipment or a Red Bull helmet that will make you win: It is the hard work that will decide if you make it or not.”
      Vialle family Pietramurata (ITA) 2019 © Ray Archer
      What next? Vialle has already caused a stir with his results. “That surprised me a lot and clearly he is making a big improvement, coming from the European Championship it is not easy to already be so good in the first two rounds,” Tony Cairoli said of Vialle’s first podium walk at round two. “I’m really happy for him and I hope he can continue in this stride and be on the podium a lot more: I think he can do it, he is very technical and focused and I don’t see many mistakes.”
      The team are still being protective. “We shouldn’t make the mistake to create too high expectations,” warns Smets. “We must have realistic goal setting.” There is also frank awareness of his weakness (his level of English is another area to work on). “He maybe has the same problems that Jorge had in 2017,” Gruebel assesses. “He is riding good and has talent but maybe does not have the strength yet to push all the way until the end of the race. If he has a good start then he can run up front for a while and hold on as long as he can. In his first year Jorge won four GPs but also didn’t finish four GPs. He wasn’t strong enough but he also developed and the more he races the better he’ll get.”
      “He has a very nice style and is a good starter but just needs to improve his speed,” opines Vialle Senior. “The gap between EMX and GP is seen in the strength of the riders and the physical condition. The bike is very fast and he needs time to adapt. He will take so much experience in the next months. I think he has the speed over one lap and he has the technique but because everything is so new for him he needs as much racing as possible … and to avoid the crashes.”
      Tom Vialle (FRA) KTM 250 SX-F Matterley Basin (GBR) 2019 © Ray Archer
      In the first phases of MXGP in 2019 Red Bull KTM are again flying. Prado is undefeated, Cairoli holds the red plate and Vialle has, amazingly, stepped up to be their peer. It is a slightly surprising situation for the racing team and the management but not an unusual one considering the impact of their former racers. Somehow the magic keeps being mixed.
      Photos: Ray Archer | P. Haudiquert
    • De Dementor
      Getting into MotoGP™
      Posted in People, Racing Breaking into the high profile but highly-occupying MotoGPTM paddock is understandably tough (it’s the peak of motorcycle sport after all) so we decided to ask John Eyre, one of our Red Bull KTM technicians, about making it as a mechanic.
      John Eyre (GBR) KTM RC16 © Rob Gray
      One of the hallmarks of 21st century life to date has been the increased ease to self-market. Social media, networking platforms and recruitment websites mean that it is possible to make shortcuts and directly target the vocational niche of your choosing.
      While there are still no substitutes for experience, contacts and knowledge, the possibilities to break into a desired field like MotoGPTM racing can seem a little clearer. There are even specific ‘race engineering academies’ that can train an aspiring mechanic in the processes and demands of preparing competition-spec equipment. In Spain ‘schools’ like the Monlau facility in Barcelona now have an element of prestige.
      There are different ways in. Alex Merhand, part of Miguel Oliveira’s Tech3 crew, studied and qualified as a data engineer, served his ‘laptop apprenticeship’ for two years for a factory team in MXGP and then graduated to MotoGPTM. On the other side of the ‘entry coin’ is John Eyre, a Brit now three years in Red Bull KTM as a mechanic looking after one of Johann Zarco’s KTM RC16s. Almost two decades in MotoGPTM John submerged himself in the scene by working part-time for a local rider in the British Superbike series. “The best thing to do now is to get a good qualification if you want to be working with data or electronics but if you want to be a mechanic then you just have to get experience and see if you can find someone that will take you on for weekends,” he says. “Do your studies during the week and get to the track at weekends. A lot of people at BSB will do that.”
      John Eyre (GBR) & Adam Wheeler (GBR) © Rob Gray
      Eyre started his journey as an eager kid obsessed by bikes. “Everybody asks ‘how did you start?’. Well I began working at races in the British Championship for a guy in the 250 series who was from the same village as me. Instead of taking holidays I went racing on the weekends. That was between 1993 and 1998 mainly as a kid.”
      “My Dad used to race grass track, road racing and vintage bikes – I have vintage bikes at home – so it was a bit of a passion thing [inherited] from him,” he says. “I did a bit of racing but you quickly realize that it’s expensive and if you crash then you still need to go to work on a Monday morning. So, I went more into mechanic-ing and the technical side.”
      KTM RC16 © Rob Gray
      Once in the race paddock then the relationships John made, the work he performed and a particular character towards the job meant he was in a position to start moving: A role working for Paul Brown in Supersport led to a year with Steve Hislop in Superbike and then finally the opening to arrive to Grand Prix at the end of 2000. “Steve was really good and I really enjoyed working with him,” he recalls. “I always wanted to get into Grand Prix and a friend was working at the Shell Advance Team and a job came up. I was thinking about it because I was 21 and it meant moving to Spain. That was 2001 and it was with Leon Haslam in the 500s.”
      As well as a mechanical mind, concentration and diligence seem to be two essential skills. Making a mistake in race bike prep can be perilous but Eyre is quite forthright about the mentality required. “A motorcycle is only nuts and bots: You just have to put it together properly. I always double check everything and was brought up to be extra sure. Then when you are in a team you bounce off each other in terms of the jobs: When that feels easy and second nature then you know you are in a good crew.”
      John Eyre (GBR) KTM RC16 © Rob Gray
      At MotoGPTM level a stripped-down racing prototype looks like a complicated collection of exotic parts and tech. For Eyre and his peers it is all relative. “It is technical … but the bike still has two wheels, two handlebars, a seat! I have worked on a lot of bikes; 2-strokes and a lot of engine stripping. Nowadays you get an engine and you just place it in the chassis. Before you had to do all the maintenance yourself with the pistons, rings, cranks: That was almost a daily job. I miss working inside the engine: the gearbox, cylinders. We used to build everything but now it is just placement of the engine, there is even a specific guy just for the gearbox.”
      “When new stuff comes you have to have a little look and think about it … but generally if it is made right and properly then it should go together nicely,” he adds on the evolution of parts and ideas in MotoGPTM.
      John Eyre (GBR) © Rob Gray
      Eyre could be the best spannerman in the business but a crucial part of his job (and something anyone looking to reach his position should be aware of) is blending with his co-workers – around 5-6 in the immediate vicinity – and making the best team environment. “I think you have to be easy-going with everybody,” he says of the personality needed to spend so many days and hours on the road and in pitboxes. “You have to be open-minded and then you’ll warm to them and them to you. We have a new Crew Chief this year and he has been absolutely brilliant.”
      He spent more than ten years at HRC (as part of the unit around KTM’s new test rider Dani Pedrosa, “I’d worked with Mike [Leitner] for about nine years and I was looking for a different challenge”) and this was a big marker on his CV. It meant that his name and face was firmly entrenched in the MotoGPTM scene: Another boost to employment prospects. “It’s not easy,” he smiles of making contacts and the ‘networking’ element of breaking into the paddock. “I remember one guy telling me it was easier to get in the Arsenal football club first eleven than it was to get into our team in BSB!”
      Knowing the job, being good with people (thus building contacts) and having the disposition to handle a race situation: If a wannabe mechanic still believes they are suitable then the next step is persistence. “What you cannot beat is race experience,” Eyre stresses. “You can have all the qualifications under the sun but that experience counts for a lot. The group really matters as well. When you have a good group of lads then you tend to know what they want before they know themselves and vice-versa. There are a lot of shortcuts and it seems to click.”
      John Eyre (GBR) & co-workers © Rob Gray
      To achieve any goal takes sacrifice. Reaching MotoGPTM might be a promised land for many but, as with anything “you have to take the rough with the smooth,” Eyre says. Nineteen weekends of racing on five continents plus tests means a long haul of kilometers on the road and in the air, and many days away from home. Much of the work formerly done in workshops is also carried out in the pitboxes of the circuits.
      “The travelling is massive. There has to be a compromise now because if they keep putting more and more races then there won’t be an off-season. I remember when I first started Grands Prix then we didn’t begin racing until April and we’d have a test in Malaysia and Jerez and that was it. Now we start the day after the last race of the year! Testing is hard work compared to racing. The travelling can be a burden but if you want to be in the world championship then you have to deal with it. I enjoy the job when I’m here.”
      Above all – and like the riders themselves and anybody else striving for results at elite level sport – Eyre says commitment and determination is what will help you make it in the end. “If you are into it then just keep trying and don’t give up,” he insists. “You have to have a passion for it. I remember being at school and saying that I wanted to go grand prix racing. Half of the teachers said ‘you won’t do anything like that’ but if you keep your head down and carry on …”
      John Eyre (GBR) © Rob Gray
      Photos: Rob Gray 
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