Cross-country professionals share some inside knowledge ahead of the 2016 edition of the Dakar Rally starting in Buenos Aires in January.
View the route map here.
Here Red Bull Desert Wings athletes hand out a few pointers to help you follow the rally and stay on the right track:
Saturday, January 2: Prologue – Buenos Aires to Rosario
Marcos Patronelli (Two-time quad bike champion): We hope to receive another great reception from the crowds when we leave Buenos Aires. We represent Argentina in the Dakar and we’ll be doing all we can to achieve another victory. The hardest race in the world has to start somewhere and I’m glad that this year we start in Buenos Aires. I’ll be focused during this short prologue on all the challenges that are to come in the following two weeks.
Sunday, January 3: Stage 1 – Rosario to Villa Carlos Paz
Carlos Sainz (2010 car race champion): I have many friends in Villa Carlos Paz after visiting there many times during the World Rally Championship. The motorsport fans here are some of the best in the world and they create a great atmosphere around the race. The Dakar stages are much longer than WRC stages. Maybe I will recognise 10 or 15km from my WRC days, but in a timed stage of over 250km that is not much. I expect this to be a challenging stage for our two-wheel drive car and we will be doing our best to keep pace with our competitors.
Monday, January 4: Stage 2 – Villa Carlos Paz to Termas de Río Hondo
Ayrat Mardeev (2015 truck race champion): Caution is our middle name throughout the race, so even though this long second stage occurs early we cannot say we will treat it any differently to any other stage. We always treat our truck with kid gloves because a critical malfunction can stop our race at any time. Of course we cannot be overly cautious because our intention is to win, so we push as much as we feel we can at any particular point during the Dakar.
Tuesday, January 5: Stage 3 – Termas de Río Hondo to San Salvador de Jujuy
Jordi Viladoms (2014 bike race runner-up): The situation has changed for me this time because now I’m the veteran in the team. This is my 10th Dakar and during that time I’ve encountered many situations that have built up my experience at this race. On a stage like this I know the weather can change quickly and when that happens the terrain can also change very quickly. Part of my job at this Dakar will be to share my experience with the younger riders in the team and hopefully this can help us to achieve some great results.
Wednesday, January 6: Stage 4 – San Salvador de Jujuy to San Salvador de Jujuy
Toby Price (2015 bike race Rookie of the Year and third place overall): This will be the first half of our first marathon stage, so that means no mechanical assistance until the end of the following stage. You really need to look after the bike and tyres because you can’t change anything. These are the days that you need to take it easy. Last year the marathon stages went really well for me, so the same result again this time would be nice. It helps that KTM have built such a great bike.
Thursday, January 7: Stage 5 – San Salvador de Jujuy to Uyuni
Nasser Al-Attiyah (Two-time car race winner and defending champion): This stage will take us to altitudes over 4,500m above sea level, so before the race I’m training a lot to be ready to cope with these demands. Last year I felt very bad with headaches when we were racing at altitude, so I’m training hard now so I’m in good shape this time around. I’m using the facilities at the Aspire Academy in Qatar to prepare for stages like this. As well as my physical training, I’m also having my oxygen levels and blood pressure analysed to guard against altitude sickness during the Dakar.
Friday, January 8: Stage 6 – Uyuni to Uyuni
Hélder Rodrigues (Two-time bike race podium finisher): As the race goes back to Bolivia there will be lots of solutions to be found for the engineers and mechanics. When I’m racing here, I’m constantly making decisions about how to save time and also save my bike. My priority is always to protect my bike because the Dakar is so long. It’s not about great times on individual stages, it’s about who manages to maintain the best speed, navigation and mechanics throughout the entire rally.
Saturday, January 9: Stage 7 – Uyuni to Salta
Kuba Przygonski (Car race rookie): This year we’re going to race more in Bolivia than we have done in previous editions of the Dakar. Last year there was lots of mechanical difficulties in the Salar de Uyuni region and I think this is a part of the race where luck plays a role. This year I will be driving a car for the first time, so even though I know this area from my time racing bikes I know it will not all be the same as before. I’ll be 100 percent focused on pushing forward for the best result I can get and reaching that finish line.
Sunday, January 10: Rest Day – Salta
Matthias Walkner (2015 FIM Cross Country World Champion): Last year I had a long sleep in a real bed the night before the rest day because we were able to go to a hotel. When I got back to the bivouac it turned out to be quite a busy day. I cleaned all of my gear (googles, helmet etc) and there was the roadbook for the next stage to prepare as normal. There were also a few media commitments. I have a better plan to manage my time on the rest day this year because last year was a bit too hectic. All the jobs I need to do can be done in about two hours so I will do that and then focus on relaxing for the rest of the day.
Monday, January 11: Stage 8 – Salta to Belén
Mohamed Abu Issa (2015 FIM Quads Cross Country Rallies runner-up): There are many unique aspects to the style of riding a Dakar stage on sand such as this one. Firstly the fact that I was born around this type of terrain helps a lot, as I have been familiar with it from a young age. Following in the sand is easier as many tracks are created, but leading can be very difficult, especially when opening the route into an open desert. Reading the dunes is something you have in you or you don’t; the quickest line is not always the shortest. The dunes hide many dangers such as drop offs and other surprises!
Tuesday, January 12: Stage 9 – Belén to Belén
Eduard Nikolaev (2015 track race champion): We are going to need stamina because this is a long stage and it’s usually very hot in this region in January. It’s likely that we’ll have to find our own route, so my co-driver takes on extra responsibility when that is the case. Our mechanic will also need to be ready to act fast because it is possible to suffer from punctures in this terrain. My task will be to keep us moving as quickly as possible.
Wednesday, January 13: Stage 10 – Belén to La Rioja
Stéphane Peterhansel (11-time Dakar champion): It’s never simple on the dunes in Fiambalá and I can remember some very complicated stages. There have been days when I have lost time in Fiambalá, but I also have some happy memories of this place. I would expect us to be racing off-piste for about 80 percent of this stage, so that makes the navigation very challenging. There will be long climbs over very soft sand and then the descent takes place over white dunes that are not easy to cross. Then we come to the canyon, which can be very dry or completely flooded depending on the weather at that moment. It’s amazing that such a small area has such a wide range of terrain.
Thursday, January 14: Stage 11 – La Rioja to San Juan
Joan Barreda (13 Dakar stage victories): I think that having Marc Coma as this year’s Sporting Director has helped to give us a very interesting route. Marc has won the bike race five times, so he knows the competition inside and out. This stage during the second week looks like it will present navigational challenges to the riders, this is typical for the stages we race close to the Andes. We will share the route with trucks and cars, this can often prove the difference between one rider and the others.
Friday, January 15: Stage 12 – San Juan to Villa Carlos Paz
Adam Małysz (Ski jumper turned rally racer): Such a long stage (900km in total) right before the end of the competition can turn out very tricky. Some may already be focused on the finish line, but even though it’s within reach you cannot afford a moment of weakness. In general, the Dakar requires excellent physical condition. I work with a doctor, Michal Wilk, who has prepared training plans for me and supervises my preparation for the Dakar. The last stages require special care of the car, because after covering so many thousands of kilometres it’s seriously worn out. At that point, I try to drive safe enough so that one mistake doesn’t squander two weeks of hard work.
Saturday, January 16: Stage 13 – Villa Carlos Paz to Rosario
Cyril Despres (5-time Dakar winner): At the Dakar it’s necessary to maintain complete concentration throughout the whole two weeks, so my mindset doesn’t change whether it’s the first, fifth or final stage. Depending on how my race has gone up to this final stage, I will be hoping to consolidate my position and take advantage of any opportunities to climb the rankings. There are days at the Dakar when you know you have to push really hard because there is the opportunity to make time on the competitors around you. However, in my experience the final stage is not the time to be taking big risks.