The 2009 (Not So) Dakar Rally
Silly me. Once I thought that London Bridge was in London – it is and it is not – and that the Jerusalem Artichoke was from Jersualem – nope. And now I was presumptious enough to believe that the Dakar Rally actually had something to do with Dakar. It does not. Well, sort of, but not this year at least.
The annual off-road race, traditionally run between Paris, France and Dakar, Senegal, was moved to South America this year for the first time ever because of Al Qaeda-related security concerns in Northern Africa. A move deemed necessary by organizers on the heels of the disappointment caused by the cancellation of the 2008 rally due to the same reasons.
The 2009 Dakar Rally began January 2nd with a symbolic send off in Buenos Aires that was attended by over 500,000 enthusiastic porteños. From there the route headed southward into the fabled Argentine Pampas and into Patagonia before looping northward again into the Andean foothills. There the route traversed the heart of Argentine wine country, Mendoza, before crossing over the dramatic Andes into Chile.
After a rest day in coastal Valparaíso, the trek continued North through Chile's Central Valley and into the Martian landscaped Atacama Desert before turning southeast over the Andes again back into Argentina. Its final stretch shot through various provinces of the Argentine north until the checkered flag of the finish line in Buenos Aires.
The Dakar competitors who successfully completed the 9,578 kilometers (5,951 miles) passed through ten of Argentina's 23 provinces and through Chile's Valparaíso, Coqiombo and Atacama regions. Or as the organizers describe it, “A land of superlatives” and a varied terrain that stretches from the rocky roads and desperate turns of the mountains to the sand dunes of the desert.
After enduring a grueling two weeks of the challenges provided by the open South American countryside, South African Gilien de Villiers and his Volkswagen emerged the winner of the 31st Dakar Rally. Second and third places went respectively to teams headed by two Americans, Mark Miller, also driving a Volkswagen, and NASCAR regular Robby Gordon, in a Hummer.
Organizers have yet to decide the location of the 2010 Dakar Rally, but all name association games aside, observers should not be surprised if the route changes again. As with most everything else in life, change seems to be the Dakar's only constant. In fact, the route has changed every year since 1995. But to be fair to the nomenclature, Dakar has served as the destination in all but four of the races since its inaugural 1970 race.
Also, a couple dozen Dakar purists continue to flight the good fight in Europe and Africa, holding a shadow race that stays true to the race's geographical routes and thumbs its nose at any would be terrorists and rally party poopers. So the Dakar Rally it shall remain, its name not yet said in vain. AER
Images: AP Photo/Christophe Ena, Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images and REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian