The Dakar also adapts to the obstacles of the pandemic
The Dakar rally will also have to adapt to the pandemic of coronavirus, which has forced the organizers to a logistical challenge even higher than usual so the race can start next January 3 in the Saudi city of Jeddah.
The definitive route, unveiled this Wednesday by the organizers, involves a 'boucle' through the desert of Saudi Arabia, with a visit to Riyadh, a day of rest next to the archaeological jewel of Ha'il and a descent back to Jeddah, the economic lung of the country.
Total, twelve stages plus an 11 kilometer prologues in the vicinity of the King Abdallah Stadium in Jeddah city, which will house the first camp. A stage that will serve to define the order of departure for the next day. The entry into the field will take place on the tracks that link Jeddah and Bisha, heading south of the country, before facing the first dunes.
"The goal was balance the two weeks, after last year was somewhat unbalanced ", explained the director of the race, David Castera, who also assured that they have sought to maintain the sporting suspense until the end."The hardest stage will be the eleventh", adds the ex-pilot, who in this edition delves into technical innovations aimed at equalizing the competition, such as surveillance of the pilots with cameras or the delivery of road books only in the mornings.
The arena will arrive from the second stage, with the goal in Wadi Ad-Dawasir, the goal of the second stage and which will also host the third, a walk through the so-called 'empty desert' from the country. The next day the caravan will head to Riyadh on a transitional journey, northbound with a stopover in Buraydah, in a stage that will test the pilots' nerves, and Ha'il, headquarters of the rest stage, where the Participants will arrive after overcoming a day full of sand.
After the rest the marathon stage with finish in Sakaka, the northernmost point of the edition mostly between sandy mountains combined with stony plains where the key will be to control the effort. The consequences of the stage without assistance will be seen in the eighth stage arriving at Neom, off the Sinai Peninsula, again on the shores of the Red Sea, where the route will allow for more acceleration.
That same city will be the goal of the next stage, again very rolling, before heading to Al-Ula, after crossing a semi-mountainous region, far from the sand. The dunes will return with all their intensity on the penultimate day with finish in Yanbu, the longest special of the edition in a desert ocean where the differences between the pilots can make the general of the day before jump through the air. The intensity will drop in the last stage, between celebration and difficulty, which will designate the final winner in each category who will climb to the podium located in Jeddah.
Castera recalled that the Dakar gave up entering other countries because of COVID-19, but that Saudi Arabia offers enough terrain to vary routes and that the 2021 edition will be "80-90% different" than last year. The race director stressed that he feared over the race dispute, but said the support of the Saudi authorities was essential.
"There is not much COVID there and they told us that they had everything at hand"said Castera, who despite the movement restrictions imposed in many countries is now convinced of being able to bring all vehicles and participants to the Arabian peninsula." It will be a Dakar particular, like everything that is done now. We are going to do a Dakar without spectators, without anyone, with the minimum of people, but we are lucky to be there, to be able to do it. It is something precious for everyone, "added the director.
Castera regretted that fewer participants, due to the pandemic and financial difficulties, an impact that has been seen especially in motorcycles, because cars and trucks repeat the number of last year. On both wheels the decrease is around 15% and it has been affected especially among the teams that had a lower budget, said Castera, who nevertheless assured that the quality of the participants was very high and congratulated himself for this. However, he did not hide his concern that the financial crisis that may follow the utility could translate into a decrease in sponsorships to teams and significantly affect participation in 2022.