Dakar 2017: More on the stages and the Portugal tour

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More than eight months before the riders and crews line-up for the biggest raid of the year, the host cities of the 2017 Dakar were announced during two press conferences held in Asunción in Paraguay, then in La Paz in Bolivia. In all, they will have to complete 12 stages to make it to the finish line of the 39th edition that will end on 14 January in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“Maybe thanks to the Dakar, the world will stop confusing Paraguay and Uruguay”, half-joked Ms Marcela Bacigalupo, Minister of Tourism in Paraguay, behind the scenes of the presentation in Asunción. Indeed, fellow government colleague Victor Pecci, a former pro tennis player who proudly represented his country by reaching the Finals of the French Open and is now the Minister of Sport, was especially thrilled that “the Dakar will without a doubt be the biggest international event the country has ever hosted”. On the competition side, the most experienced Paraguayan participant, Nelson Sanabria, who finished 4th in the quad category in 2015, is already looking forward to the moment of pride he expects early next year: "this is a dream that will finally come true, and it will be really great to be able to start surrounded by our loved ones."

The crossing of Paraguay will unquestionably be an emotional ride for Sanabria and his countrymen in the race, but the competition will heat up when the race enters Bolivia. In the presence of President Evo Morales, Etienne Lavigne stated that “coping with the altitude is now among the parameters to control for both the Dakar competitors and mechanics, who have experienced all the consequences during their expeditions to Uyuni in previous years”. But this time, the Bolivian leg will lead the Dakar to La Paz for a rest day where the competitors will catch their breath in an unusual way… at 3,600m! The altitude doesn't scare Bolivia's top bike rider Chavo Salvatierra, or his countryman and quad competitor Walter Nosiglia, who are already delighted about this long stay in their home country. Evo Morales, whose enthusiasm for the Dakar has increased with each edition since its first visit in 2013, will for his part align himself with the pledge made by Thierry Sabine: "It will be a challenge for those who go, a dream for those who stay."

Dakar Tour: Portugal, at the heart of the matter

During the running of the Portuguese championship, experienced riders and those of the future were able to meet with Marc Coma at a presentation for the 2017 Dakar. Particularly involved, the younger competitors will soon be hard at work on the Merzouga Rally at the end of the month, as will Helder Rodrigues and Ruben Faria…

The Portuguese cross-country championship is the starting point for a career that could then take on a global dimension, as has been the case for the likes of Paolo Gonçalves, Helder Rodrigues and Ruben Faria. All three have stepped onto the Dakar podium during their career among the sport's best. Yesterday, after having crisscrossed the tracks towards Reguengos de Monsaraz on the prologue, a good 100 or so kilometres from Lisbon, the young hopefuls as well as experienced riders on the Portuguese racing scene got the chance to chat with Dakar Sporting Director Marc Coma about the route of next year's edition, which was announced this week. In addition to the start of the Dakar in Asunción, Paraguay next January, the five-time Dakar winner also gave a few indications to the many candidates that have chosen to compete in the Merzouga Rally, in less than a month (21-27 May). Ruben Faria is doing just that, following Heder Rodrigues in announcing his participation in the Moroccan event: “I have spent some time recovering from my hand injury that I suffered on the Dakar, but I will be ready to return to competition on the Merzouga”, details Faria who will meet up with many of the riders he ran into this weekend. Among the Portuguese hopefuls are David Megre and Luis Portelas who will be serious contenders for the Dakar Challenge prize at Erfoud. Also present at the weekend in Reguengos, British rider Max Hunt, the brother of rally competitor Harry Hunt, who in January finished his first Dakar in 10th place in the car category. Next stop Merzouga… and who knows, why not Asunción!!