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Nicola Dutto: “Always looking ahead”

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Dementor

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Nicola Dutto: “Always looking ahead”

Never will he stop trying new things. A horrific crash left Nicola Dutto bound to a wheelchair, but even with that setback in mind, he’s still out to achieve his goals. His next challenge will be kicking off on January 7, 2019. That’s the day he’ll start the Dakar Rally.

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© Francesca Gasperi

Certain dates are etched in the mind. A beautiful memory like your wedding day, the birth of a child, or perhaps even the first time you swung a leg over a new motorcycle; your mind archives the day for you, so you can come back to that specific memory on its annual anniversary. Dark days unfortunately follow the same routine. One man that knows all about it, is Nicola Dutto (48). March 20, 2010 is one of those dates; one that will stick by him until the day he dies. On that day fate took a turn for the worse, when he experienced that which all racers fear. It was during that year’s Italian Baja in Pordenone that left Dutto paralyzed from the waist down. “The last thing I remember is kicking the bike up a gear from fourth into fifth. What happened right after, I don’t know. The next thing I remember is opening my eyes, wanting to get back on the bike. But I couldn’t get up.” Spectators quickly gathered round the fallen Italian, in an attempt to help him up. “I told them right away not to touch me, because they were moving in to take my helmet off. I needed medical assistance above all, quick too.” Some of Dutto’s spinal vertebrae could not handle the impact of the crash and cracked as a result. There was no way around it at this stage; the Italian Baja specialist knew pretty quickly he was paralyzed. “But that wasn’t even my main concern at the time, because the doctor that had rushed to the scene pointed out I was still critically hurt, since my heart wasn’t functioning properly and the blow had also reduced my lung capacity to around twenty percent of normal.”

Fourteen weeks of nothing
Nine hours of surgery later, Nicola Dutto spends an additional five days in the ICU. Two weeks later, he’s moved to a rehabilitation clinic near his home town of Beinette. “All the broken bones had to heal, which meant I had fourteen weeks of doing absolutely nothing to look forward to. The staff would lift me off the bed with a sheet, so they could put me in an electric wheelchair.” Because he was basically bedridden at this point, with rehab waiting for him once the broken bones had healed, he had quite a bit of time to ponder the whole situation. “Thinking about it all at the time, it’s really difficult to try and see the light,” he admits in all honesty. “I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t shed a tear. Once I started to figure out what the consequences meant, I cried a lot. It’s like someone pushed a button. The one moment you’re out there racing and the next you’re confined to a bed, without functioning legs.” Dark clouds had been gathering over Nicola’s head, but he was fortunate to have Elena Foi by his side. The couple had met at a party at Scorpion Bay, six months before Nicola’s life-changing accident. “We’d only known each other for a little while at that point, and the first thing Nicola told me when he woke up after surgery was “You don’t have to stay with me.” Naturally I wanted nothing else but to be there for him, even though I didn’t know what was going to happen at all.” Elena lives in Brescia, almost three hours from Turin, where Nicola was treated in the rehab clinic; traveling back and forth as often as she could. “We lived three hundred kilometers apart, so that was problematic, especially since I had a job and two daughters to raise. I lost my job in the end, unfortunately, but my parents couldn’t have been more supportive. It was a tough period, but Nicola’s recovery was going well and after nine months he could return home. After that my daughters and I moved in with Nicola.”

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© Francesca Gasperi

The sole Italian
Before his accident, Nicola Dutto earned a living racing professionally. It wasn’t until Dutto was nineteen he started racing, but that did not stop him from building quite a career in a relatively short period of time. After moderate success riding enduros, the Italian shifted his focus to Baja races. Cross-country races with arrowed out routes seemed to be his forte. “A friend of mine pointed out this particular new sort of racing. In Spain the sport had taken flight and I just fell in love with the game. Eventually I moved to Spain and lived there for six years, just to put all my time into the Baja.” Dutto regularly competed with Dakar hotshots like Marc Coma, Isidre Esteve Pujol, and Nani Roma. Back in the day he was something special, being the sole Italian in a field full of Spaniards. In Italy they held only some fast enduro races, but nothing like a ‘real’ Baja. Dutto managed to make a name for himself in the sport, eventually taking the European Baja title in both 2008 and 2009.

Dutto’s beloved sport first came to be on the Mexican Baja California peninsula, and in 2010 he had intended to race the legendary Baja 1000 race there too. Unfortunately, that never happened that year, but – believe it or not – despite his injuries and his time rehabilitating, Dutto’s name was back on the entry list the year after, as a buggy racer this time. “My crash had ruined my chances of racing a motorcycle in Baja, but my rehabilitation gave me time to reconsider my options. In the end I decided on racing the Baja 1000 in the buggy class, together with Elena.” The Italian couple’s adventure ended with them stuck in the Mexican desert, after a transmission belt got fried. “The problem was aggravated because we just couldn’t replace the belt on site. The belt was behind my seat, so it was impossible to get to. We waited for assistance in that riverbed all night. I had made up my mind right then and there; this never again. Four wheels mean trouble. So, I needed to get myself back on two wheels.”

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© Francesca Gasperi

Spanish connection
Three-time AMA motocross national champ Doug Henry inspired Dutto to follow in his footsteps. After the Italian saw the roll cage Henry had used on his bike, he started to work on building his own version. “Motorcycle racing is the pivot point of my life, although getting back on a motorcycle after my crash had seemed impossible until then. I had thought about trying my hand as a race organizer, because it was still the world I wanted to be a part of. Riding bikes again myself? No, that had never crossed my mind in the beginning.” After seeing Doug Henry all that changed, and the Italian was back on a bike soon after. Thinking about that day immediately puts a smile on Dutto’s face. “I felt like such an idiot getting back on a bike again. I was terrified too. We had mounted sort of like training wheels to the bike and at first I went completely pale at the thought of actually riding it. What had I gotten myself into. But a few hundred meters in, I found my balance again. I was certain then I was going to ride again.” After those first tentative steps back on a bike, Dutto enrolled in a Baja race. Just four months down the road, Dutto scored a 24th place in the Baja Aragon. “I had really intended for it to be a fun ride with friends. Just cruising through the mountains, but I couldn’t deny I wanted to get back in the sport. I needed to get in touch with some of my Spanish friends.”

With motorcycle racing back on the cards, the Dakar Rally soon came up for Dutto, too. “Before my accident Bajas had been my main focus, but since it, I’ve been seeing new opportunities everywhere I look. Like the Dakar. It was never a dream for me like it is for most, but to me racing the Dakar is like taking part in the Olympics. Three years ago, while watching the race on TV, I thought to myself why not do the Dakar?”

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© Francesca Gasperi

How adversaries became ghost riders
Despite his handicap, Nicola Dutto is no different than other potential contestants, in that he has to qualify to be allowed to take part in the world’s toughest race. He did so last year when he finished the OliLibya Rally. Every competitor needs a team to even have a shot at finishing a race, but for the Italian having capable people around him is beyond crucial. During rally raids the KTM rider is accompanied by so-called ghost riders. These ghost riders go by the name of Pablo Toral, Victor Rivera, and Julian Villarrubia. “We will start the Dakar Rally as a four-person team. One rider will ride in front, because I can’t just stop to have a look around, to see where I’m supposed to be going. He guides me onto the right trails up a dune for instance. He’s also the one to ‘catch’ me when I have to stop for fuel or when I reach the finish line. The other two riders follow in my wake. In case something goes wrong, they’ll be there to pick me up. As I’m tied to the motorcycle it’s important having the two of them, because it’s not just the bike they’re picking up, but the roll cage and myself with it. For me it is even more important than it is for ‘normal’ riders to have a team I can rely on; it has to feel like a family. I am fortunate to have three incredible ghost riders – guys I’ve known for a very long time. They used to be my adversaries in the Spanish Bajas!”

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© Francesca Gasperi

Since Dutto is paralyzed from the waist down, he needs more than just his three ghost riders with him; the bike needed quite a bit of work as well. His KTM 450 EXC-F has undergone a transformation to allow the Italian to be comfortable on the bike. Dutto uses an electronically controlled shifter as well as an automatic Rekluse clutch. The rear brake master cylinder has been moved to the handlebars, too. His legs are secured and guarded by a framework. Other important parts on Dutto’s unique KTM are the Vicair seat and back support with a three-point harness attached. “Comparing my current Dakar bike to the bike I first built to get back on two wheels, you could say a lot has changed. On the old bike the roll cage was pretty big and bulky, where on my new bike it’s brought back to a very minimalist design. It allowed us to shed quite a bit of weight from the bike, which helps controlling the motorcycle. It’s also worth noting the engine of the KTM enduro is a lot better, too. Engine characteristics and the fact it has a six-speed gearbox is perfect for me.” Obviously, Nicola had to adapt his riding to the new situation. In his own words, it now feels like normal riding without using his legs. “It’s pretty difficult explaining how I have to ride a bike now. It is a very involved manner of riding, and it has taken a lot of time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Working on getting the suspension to work for me was interesting, because I’m unable to stand up to take the blows anymore.”

© Francesca Gasperi

The best example
The paraplegia has led Nicola Dutto through a deep and dark place, but his eyes were always on the light shimmering on the horizon. He couldn´t be happier he decided to approach his rehabilitation as only a professional athlete would. “I put in the hours of training, with the clinic staff telling me I was mad. Instead of going for just an hour of required physical therapy, I pushed on. If I could, I would try two or even three hours. That sped up progress drastically. I still felt like a professional athlete, even without functioning legs. Preparing for the Dakar Rally I’m back in that zone again.”

His entry in the Dakar Rally is the best example of Dutto’s will to enjoy life – especially since he can combine life with motorsports again. “I consider myself a happy man, not just because I’m still alive, but also because there’s still so many projects left to do for me. In 2013 my good friend Kurt Caselli lost his life. That was hard to swallow, but at the same time it made me more determined in making the most out of life. Look, the accident left me with two options. I could’ve looked back, thinking about the time when I could still walk, but that wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere. I decided to take the second option, because when I’m on a bike or when I’m skiing – another passion of mine – I’m always looking ahead. And that is how I’m living life with my paraplegia, too.”

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© Francesca Gasperi

Want to follow Nicola Dutto during the upcoming Dakar Rally? Check out his social media pages:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nicoladutto/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nicola.dutto.official/

Photos: Francesca Gasperi


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      To that we say “Welcome ladies” – you’ll fit right in.
      ULTIMATE DUKE RIDERS: Liliana and Patricia Cardoso
      PC @rubeneccoelho
    • De Dementor
      Posted in Racing Did you know the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team is looking to lead one of America’s oldest motorcycle sports? The two-rider crew is aiming for top honors in the ‘Singles’ class of American Flat Track, so we asked Team Manager Chris Fillmore about the project…
      The 2021 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing American Flat Track team
      PC @EmeryM 34-year-old Chris Fillmore has plenty of experience of KTM orange on American racetracks. Whether it’s AMA Superbike glory with the KTM RC8, Supermoto garlands or setting records up Pikes Peak on a KTM DUKE, the former racer has earned plaudits for his skills and versatility. As Team Manager for Red Bull KTM’s newest competitive project in American Flat Track he had his work cut out to understand the throttle-heavy requirements of the discipline. After two seasons he was able to construct a line-up of promising Aussie youngster Max Whale (2020 Singles runner-up) and fast female Shayna Texter-Bauman, and has learned to flow with the intense (often) brake-less action as KTM attempt to have a similar impact to their offroad, motocross and supercross programs in the USA.
      Whale and Texter on their KTM Factory Racing Flat Track machines
      PC @EmeryM The Michigan-born California resident was able to get on the phone to talk beginnings, equipment and special guests…
      On why KTM are now in the American Flat Track Singles class with a Red Bull-backed Factory team…
      We’d seen American Flat Track grow over the last few years. We watched and listened to what was going on in 2017, and then in 2018 we decided we wanted to be involved. We recognized that the sport was followed by mainly a street bike audience, and we wanted to be there to promote our street bikes. In the end, the shape of the rulebook and the investment needed to enter the Twins class meant we ultimately took another path. It was encouraging to see the TV package growing, the fanbase growing, the other manufacturers getting on the track and the general shift of the sport going up. What we’ve realized now is that the Singles class is showing the most progression; almost all the manufacturers are there, the racing is always tight and this makes for a great spectating experience.
      Max Whale gets his KTM 450 SX-F FACTORY EDITION flat track bike turned
      PC @EmeryM On the KTM machinery on the track…
      Our race bikes are the KTM 450 SX-F FACTORY EDITIONs, essentially they are motocross bikes with 19” wheels, lowered suspension and spec tires through Dunlop that have been around a long time. We have one tire, one tread with different compounds for four-five different track surfaces. You have clay tracks that turn into blue-groove, you have greasy clay tracks – kind of like Atlanta – and then you have ‘cushions’ which are more loamy. Dunlop had to make a tire that works on all of them. I remember going to a first test on clay track and we put a new tire and the guys were slower on newer rubber than a compound that was 100% worn out! Coming from road racing I assumed new tires were always the way to go, but little things like that remind you of how different Flat Track can be. Riders will look and touch a worn tire and say, ‘Yeah, that’s still OK,’ whereas I initially stood there and thought, ‘That needs to go in the trash!’ It’s an interesting education.
      KTM’s Flat Track bike is a KTM 450 SX-F FACTORY EDITION with modifications
      PC @EmeryM On how a rider makes an impact in Flat Track and the ratio of man-and-machine needed for success…
      Racers are always looking for tenths of a second, but those guys are looking for hundredths, and to do that consistently. On average I would say the lap times are between 20-22 seconds for most of tracks and even the big miles are around 30 seconds. The most difficult part from a technical perspective is finding a course that stays consistent in order to know that you are actually making gains. The rider has to be very smart at that point in time to understand how the track is at the beginning of the day and then at the end of the day, grasp those changes and give that feedback so we don’t lose our way. There are very fine details that make the difference. In Flat Track you are always adjusting to surface change because you are always looking for that hundredth of a second.
      Shayna Texter-Bauman is an incredible talent in American Flat Track
      PC @EmeryM On whether Flat Track is like a middle ground between motocross and road racing…
      In motocross the track changes so much, and lap by lap, so you never get time to really adjust consistently. The Flat Track guys only have two corners and if something is ill-handling in one of those two because a bump has developed, and they cannot alter their line – which is sometimes only two-foot wide – then there are less options compared to motocross where you can go inside or outside or wherever you want. Motocross is more about the rider compared to any other motorcycle sport. Flat Track is a good example of something in the middle of road racing and motocross, but I would say it leans more towards the road than moto if I had to pick one or the other.
      Texter in action in Atlanta
      PC @ScottHunter On fielding Shayna Texter-Bauman, her development and integration into the team…
      Shayna is unbelievably talented. She’s a specialist, and on some tracks she’s unbeatable and won’t be denied; those tend to be clay half miles and also Lima, so cushions. But then there are other tracks where she struggles. I got to know her in 2018, and then when KTM and Red Bull wanted to start racing we thought it was better to have a two-rider team rather two individual teams, so we wanted to bring her onboard. Red Bull was also very keen and they did a couple of video projects last year. I think she has worked harder than she ever has for the TT and some of the other tracks. We’ll see if her work has paid off because the skillset is there, but it’s the muscle memory and the confidence that goes into an event that will really tell if she can excel across the board.
      Whale racing in Volusia II
      PC @ScottHunter On motocross and freestyle legend Travis Pastrana riding in Red Bull KTM colors at Atlanta Motor Speedway…
      It was a very unique situation both for our team as well as American Flat Track to have somebody with his experience across the board coming to race. He is a true enthusiast of sports and an all-round good dude, so I was thrilled to be able to provide him with a motorcycle and watch him have a crack at it. Atlanta is pretty special with both pavement and dirt and Travis has a Supermoto background; I raced him when I was quite young. In terms of results I think his focus was in having a good time and beating his buddy Ryan Sipes rather than being on the box, and they ended up just one place apart from each other in the top 10. It was really cool to have him as part of the sport and his first try on a Pro Flat Track; it’s yet another activity ticked off on his CV list!
      Freestyle legend Travis Pastrana raced at the AMA Flat Track round in Atlanta
      PC @ScottHunter
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