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Feature: Dorian Joulin – The Comeback Kid

Feature: Dorian Joulin – The Comeback Kid

France’s Dorian Joulin had a shocking start to the 2023 season after severe appendicitis struck him at the opening R3 bLU cRU European Championship test of the year, but the 15-year-old showed superhuman strength to comeback to a podium just weeks after surgery. This is his story.

In early April a group of 21 young riders from all corners of the globe descended on Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli for the very first Yamaha R3 bLU cRU European Championship test of the season. It was Easter weekend for many of the riders, but school holidays and chocolate rabbits were far from their minds as they lined up in the queue for administrative checks, received their leathers and helmets, and waited to have their shiny new R3 bikes allocated to them.

As the day progressed they were welcomed by the series organisers in a fun ceremony before posing for photos in their new ‘paddock blue’ clothes, but among the smiles and excitement on most of the young faces, there was one rider sitting pale and peaky, he was assisted out of the room part way through the ceremony by his mother, holding him up under his armpits, while his father insisted “Dorian will be back in 5 minutes, he doesn’t want to miss the photoshoot”.

Dorian Joulin

Dorian Joulin was on his way to the medical centre, where he received medication, advice, and a comfortable place to rest. The 15-year-old had severe appendicitis, but sure enough he returned to pose for his photo and chat to his fellow riders for as long as he could manage. The next day, as every other rider climbed aboard their bike and took to the track for testing, Joulin was lying in hospital.

“It was my first time in an Italian hospital, and the situation was quite urgent.” Explained Dorian “But everything went well and the operation took place on April 10 (Easter Monday). The doctors made considerable efforts to ensure that we understood each other, despite me not speaking Italian, and they were very helpful, but all I could think about was the disappointment of missing the Misano test, and not being able to sit on the bike that had been assigned to me, I hadn’t even have a chance to try my leathers on...”

With the first European Championship race of the year in Assen taking place just two weeks after the Misano Test, the young star had no choice but to watch the first two races online from the sofa as the season roared into action.

“I was forced to rest for three weeks, and those three weeks felt very long and difficult. I couldn’t do anything; no sport, no training, I wasn’t allowed to do anything that required effort: I was on total bed rest. For me that was a complicated time, I’ve always pushed myself hard in sports and sitting still for so long, knowing the season was going on without me, was tough.”

Dorian turned this frustration into a practical solution, and once he was feeling a little bit stronger he began figuring out how to prepare for the next round without actually getting on the bike…

“I didn’t know Barcelona circuit very well, although I did do some training there a few months earlier, but I knew the race would soon be coming up. At that point I turned to riding the circuit virtually via video games and watching onboard videos of the track. It kept me motivated and mentally ready, even if my body was still unable to do much.”

Dorian Joulin

When the second round of the season rolled around in Barcelona just four weeks after his surgery, his participation was uncertain. He would require stringent medical checks and would have to be guided by his physical condition after each session. Dorian had shown maturity beyond his years during his recovery, and he was ready to be guided by the professionals... 

“When I arrived in Catalunya the initial checks went well, but the organisation's doctors told me that I was only on the verge of recovery and there was still a risk of being declared unfit for the Barcelona weekend, and that thought upset me. As a precaution, I had to ride with a compression belt, a bit like a kidney belt, which tightly held my stomach, this reduced the risk of complications such as internal bleeding. My parents were by my side throughout the whole ordeal and we all trusted in the doctors’ opinions, we weren’t going to race if the risk was too high. I was not afraid to try because I had so much motivation to resume racing.”

A weekend in the Yamaha R3 bLU cRU Championship, which runs alongside the European rounds of the FIM World Superbike Championship, is always intense. The riders, aged between 14 and 20 years old, start their weekend by walking the length of an often unfamiliar track with the series coach, Lorenzo Alfonsi, who advises them on line choice and gear selection as well as any potential pitfalls, but their first ‘rubber to asphalt’ contact comes on Friday. A free practice session on Friday morning is quickly followed by a qualifying session on Friday afternoon, and on Saturday two short but particularly ferocious races close out the weekend for the keen kids. It’s not easy at the best of times, but when you’re still far from 100% the pressure mounts further.

Dorian Joulin

“It was complicated in terms of post-session recovery after one month without doing sports or riding a motorcycle.” says Dorian “Physically I had lost a lot of energy, I had fairly substantial weight loss, but I still had a minimum of strength left. From the middle of the session onwards I could feel myself deteriorating and I had an energy drop.”

From the outside you could easily miss the fact that Joulin was suffering, apart from his regular absences from the series paddock (known as the R3 Village) as he attended regular medical checks, on the bike it was as though nothing had happened. He claimed a promising 6th place in FP1, but was disappointed with 12th in Superpole.

“I knew that one month without doing sports meant it was going to be very complicated in terms of participating in a full round, but somehow I felt quite discontented with 12th place, and I lost a bit of hope for my performance in the races.”

As race one rolled around on Saturday morning, the R3 village was filled with its usual powerful air of anticipation, nerves, and excitement. Over in Dorian’s corner he sat, leathers and helmet on, fully focused on the task ahead but looking pale and anxious through his open visor. As soon as they lined up on the grid, he switched from survival mode into battle mode and the determined young Frenchman wowed onlookers as he carved his way through the frenetic field of 20 riders. There was no fading or fatigue showing as he continued to push for the front, closing the race in a superb third place. In Parc Ferme and on the Paddock Show stage it was clear that a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders, he was smiling and relaxed, and all the tension and suffering of the previous weeks appeared to melt away.

Dorian Joulin

“I was simply so motivated ride in this new championship, I’ve already seen how amazing the R3 Championship is even from my short time here, so I knew that I was going to give everything, really do my best, but despite that I didn’t expect this superb result. We were very surprised; at the same time I've been working for years to reach this level...”

In race two, held just a couple of hours after the extraordinary effort of race one, Joulin once again dug deep and his performance belied the exertion he was undergoing. He finished just shy of the podium but with a nevertheless fantastic fifth place. Despite this, his desire to win, his motivation and strong will clearly shone through in his closing statement:

“Yes of course I am very happy with this weekend because I didn’t expect this performance when I came back from my operation! But hey, I remain extremely disappointed to have missed the tests at Misano and especially the first race at Assen. I lost big points because of this problem, and my goal at the start of the season was to make the Top 3 in the championship. After all that’s happened my new objective is simply to give everything I have in me in order to move up in the standings. The biggest hope is to finish in the Top 5, it seems feasible to me, and maybe even aim for the Top 3. It will be extremely complicated or even impossible, but you should never say never!” 

Watch what Dorian does next by following the Yamaha R3 bLU cRU Championship via, the WorldSBK official app, and the Yamaha bLU cRU Offical social media channels.

Dorian Joulin