The saying goes that "from love to hate there is only one step" and the French Jean-Louis Schlesser and the German Jutta Kleinschmidt were proof of this. They were both colleagues, teammates and boyfriends for six years, but the Dakar turned their love for each other into fiery hatred.
Schlesser and Kleinschmidt met in the early 1990s when they met in the few rally-raid races that were held at the time. The Frenchman, who had already shone in his country's Formula 3, Formula 1, the World Championship of Sport Prototypes and Tourism categories, fell in love with the beauty of the German female blonde, who after gaining experience in enduro competitions was willing to challenge men and the desert on a motorcycle.
The relationship between the two grew and the need to be together longer led Schlesser to invite, in early 1993, Jutta to be his navigator. After gaining experience in the right seat, and encouraged by Schlesser himself, Kleinschmidt ran his first race in cars in 1994. At that UAE Desert Challenge, Schlesser achieved a flawless victory and Kleinschmidt wowed by finishing fourth.
Moonlit walks on the Champs Elysee and romantic dinners on the banks of the Seine combined with endless road-book surveys in some desolate bivouac. Although they were romantically linked, the professional aspect began to divide them. Schlesser wanted to be the lord and master of rally-raid, while Kleinschmidt was striving to transcend an exclusively male specialty. When those personal ambitions increased, the coexistence became unsustainable and, after six years of dating, they separated and each continued on their way.
At the beginning of the 1999st century, Schlesser and Kleinschmidt became bitter rivals. The official support they received from the terminals they represented - the French ran for Renault and the German for Mitsubishi - allowed them to be almost exclusively the only drivers to compete in a good part of the Cross Country World Championship calendar. Although in 2000 and 2001 Schlesser had Kleinschmidt at bay, the German retaliated in XNUMX by winning no less than the Dakar, a competition that the Frenchman had stamped his name in the previous two years ...
Kleinschmidt's triumph, the first in her sporting career and also the first by a woman in such a demanding test so far, triggered more problems. Shortly after being defeated, Schlesser stated that a four-minute error in the final counts gave his ex-girlfriend the victory: “It bothers me that she is convinced that she won the Dakar in good law. It is not like this. In any case, the winner should be Hiroshi Masuoka, his teammate, who was the great dominator. Jutta didn't win a stage and he shouldn't even have celebrated on the podium ”. Kleinschmidt, at the time, defended himself with a certain irony. “I was victorious thanks to Schlesser's mistake in the penultimate stage (NdeR: for getting ahead in the start he was penalized two hours and lost the leadership of the event). It would be good if I appreciated it, but I suppose you don't want to talk to me… ”.
A few months after that crossing in the African desert, the two met again in the Por las Pampas, an all-terrain competition that took place on the roads of Mendoza (Argentina). Obviously, there they also had a strong confrontation.
The straw that broke the camel's back occurred in the initial kilometers of the first stage of this race. Schlesser accused Kleinschmidt of throwing the car at him on a stretch of the course when he was about to overtake her. “It is not the first time he has done this to me, in the Dakar he covered me for 200 kilometers. But hey, that attitude does not surprise me… she is a woman ”, he assured. The phrase was perfect to start the dialogue with the Frenchman and find out more about the rivalry with his former partner ...
-Is Kleinschmidt a special rival or is he like any other?
-He's just another pilot. When you chase a car you are not interested in knowing who is driving it, if it is a man, a woman or whatever; you just want to beat him.
-Do you still think that Jutta didn't deserve to win the Dakar?
-Of course ... Masuoka should have been the winner, not her. The organizers made a mistake with the timing and she took advantage. Masuoka's total time was less than Jutta's, so Hiroshi should have won. Everyone knows that and so does she. Of course, Mitsubishi did not make a claim, Masuoka and Kleinschmidt race for the same team and due to a marketing issue it was convenient for them that Jutta win the race. If she had been a good athlete, she should have given the trophy to her partner.
-But how do you define Kleinschmidt then?
-It's very problematic ... If I were faster I would be a good pilot and that way I wouldn't have to criticize myself. You didn't win anything and you should be aware that you need to accumulate more experience. She can't come and pretend to beat me, I have more years in motorsports than her and a career that includes titles in Formula 3, Sport Prototypes and a race in F.1 ...
The other protagonist of this story also said her thing during that visit to Cuyo territory. With great kindness and an almost continuous smile on her face, Jutta explained some of the details of this antipathy to the French.
-How did this rivalry with Schlesser start?
-It was because he could not bear that a woman had beaten him in a race as particular as the Dakar. He asked his sponsors for a lot of money to run that test and after my triumph he did not know how to justify himself.
-Schlesser said that you are problematic and that you always make excuses ...
- I know that he does not like me, there is a personal problem between us.
-Is Schlesser "the" rival?
-In the beginning I considered him as a rival, but I stopped taking him into account because he is not a true athlete. What he said about my victory in the Dakar was not good; at first I thought it was a momentary anger at having lost the race, but it was not. Since then he always did things to destroy me. But for me, Schlesser doesn't exist.
-Is it so bad?
-It happens that some do not know how it really is. After the Dakar I won, he called Mitsubishi countless times to stop them giving me more support, and he didn't do it because he wanted my place but because he really hates me.
-How can it be that he has contempt for a person with whom he had a relationship that lasted six years?
-Please don't mention it to me… That was the worst mistake of my life.
Those duels between Jean-Louis Schlesser and Jutta Kleinschmidt are still remembered in the world of raid. And still many cannot understand how two people who loved each other so much, came to hate each other so deeply. Could it be because there was a third party in contention and that was the Dakar?