Dakar 2024: a three-star menu

The 2024 Dakar route has been unveiled on Monday.

Key points:

•  "We took it upon ourselves to make the fifth edition of Saudi Arabia the toughest one since the race came to the Middle East", warned the director of the rally, David Castera, when unveiling the details of the 46th edition, which will start in AlUla on 5 January and finish in Yanbu, on the shores of the Red Sea, after a 7,891 km trek on roads, tracks and dunes, including 4,727 km of specials.

·  One of the challenges introduces a new paradigm for exploring the Empty Quarter desert: a 48h chrono held over two days in which the competitors, scattered among eight bivouacs, will be basically left to their own devices.

·   The riders are preparing to face this formidable route, which will also set the scene for the inaugural round of the third season of the World Rally-Raid Championships (W2RC): 137 motorbikes and 10 quads in the race.

·    The fourth edition of the Dakar Classic, a regularity race for 20th-century vehicles, will take place over a distance of 7,366 km, including 3,586 km of timed sections.

Some promises can trigger dread and excitement at the same time. Case in point: the one made at the presentation of the 2024 route, which gave an enthusiastic response to the competitors' mantra that "a great Dakar is a tough Dakar". Their wish has come true, and they will only get a few days before the start to soak up the atmosphere in AlUla, where a giant bivouac will be set up again following the experience of the final scrutineering held on the Red Sea coast last year. David Castera's three-star menu stands out for its gruelling first week. The competitors will feast their eyes on never-seen-before volcanic landscapes… or they would if they were not busy tackling long, hard stages on a patchwork of terrains from the get-go. The marathon stage, a two-day challenge in which the competitors will have to race on eggshells, comes as early as stage 3. At the end of the week, the concept goes one step further with the introduction of a "48h chrono": imagine the grandiose clang of a bell filling the twilight air in the Empty Quarter, ordering every single competitor to halt their vehicle and spend the night under the starry skies before getting back on the move at sunrise. In practice, the time limit will be 4 pm. When the clock strikes four, the entrants will have to stop at the next of the six rest areas that punctuate the course of the special.

Following this "race within a race", which is sure to scatter the title contenders to the four winds on the eve of the rest day in Riyadh, the second week has all the ingredients needed to keep fans on the edge of their seats. Alternating extreme stages and courses that will give entrants a bit of a breather, the competitors in pursuit will get several opportunities to surge up the standings on the road to Al Duwadimi, on the return trip to AlUla or in the final approach to Yanbu. Until the eve of the finale, which features the toughest stage of the second week, the odd-numbered stages offer the best risk-to-reward ratio, although the competitors will have to keep their eyes peeled to dodge the navigational pitfalls that litter the desert throughout this new Saudi odyssey.