Earth & Conservation

Toughest Yet Endurance Race Unveiled

Competitors in the 39th Dakar Rally will face a grueling 5,590-mile odyssey that spans deserts and mountains in three South American countries.

<p>Dakar Rally</p>

The 39th Dakar Rally will be raced over nearly 9,000 kilometers (5,592 miles) from January 2 to 14 in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay and will demand "extreme endurance," organizers announced Wednesday.

The race will set off from the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion, with race sporting director Marc Coma promising "the toughest edition in the history of South American rally-raiding."

There will be one week spent on the Bolivian Altiplano, with five stages raced at crushing altitudes of more than 3,500 m (11,480 ft), going up to 4,500 m (14,764 ft).

"High up in the mountains, you're really tested on a respiratory level," race director Etienne Lavigne told AFP.

"Producing an effort is more complicated. Competitors will experience this discomfort very often and for long periods."

There will also be six special stages of more than 400 km (372 mi), dune crossing and driving in sand, especially on the sections of the route still unknown to rally-raid regulars or during the all-important "Super Belen" stage, three days from the finish line in Buenos Aires.

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"It's a very physical course for the competitors, the stages are long and on the bike or quad they'll be very physically challenged," Lavigne said, adding that the rally threw up an unprecedented series of extreme geographical scenarios and climates.

"There will be great differences between the tropical temperatures in Paraguay, the high-altitude climatic conditions (in Bolivia) and then the descent into the northwestern part of Argentina which is very dry and desert-like.

"The nature of the terrain, both tricky, rocky, off-road, numerous sandy parts on the route, along with rain, wind, sometimes snow, mud, sand, salt... It makes for a very complicated cocktail for the competitors."

Some 316 vehicles, including 83 cars and 146 motorbikes, are registered for the rally, which will feature old hands such as Peugeot's French duo of defending champion Stephane Peterhansel and Cyril Despres, and Toyota's two-time winner Nasser al-Attiyah of Qatar and South African Giniel De Villiers.

Also in the running will be nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb and Carlos Sainz, both in Peugeots, 2004 Dakar champion Nani Roma in a Toyota and Finland's Mini driver Mikko Hirvonen, fourth on his debut in 2016.

It will be the ninth time the Dakar Rally has been held in South America. The race was cancelled in 2008 over security threats in Mauritania, organizers taking the decision to move the rally to another continent in 2009.