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Exactly ten years ago, on 4th January 2008 the unbelievable happened. Based on the preceding events, we should have expected it, but when it really happened, I think it was a real shock for everyone being there or following the events from home. Ten years ago, on 4th January 2008, the 30th edition of Dakar Rally was cancelled.

After a looong day at the scrutineering and various press events on the 3rd, 4th January began in a quiet and sleepy way for the group of journalists I belonged to back then. We discussed the rumours we heard about the possible cancellation of the event, but it seemed to be so far beyond all probabilities that we decided not to publish it. Why should we stir emotions on such a nice day? We enjoyed the pleasant weather of Lisbon while heading to Belem Cultural Centre, which hosted all the preliminary formalities of the event.

Arriving there, first thing we noticed was the following:
Of course, some minutes before noon everybody was gathering at the auditorium. The tension was tangible. And then Etienne Lavigne stepped on the podium and started to talk. I can’t remember how long was his speech or what did he say. Just the last two words: “est annulé” (is cancelled). 

In Hungarian, we have a phrase for such moments: “the air froze”. I’ve heard and used it many times, but never FELT it, not until that moment. All the people in the auditorium seemed to be in total shock. Of course, with our brain we knew that there were problems, serious problems in the countries crossed by the route, but still the decision was something totally unexpected. The Dakar simply can’t be cancelled. The legend can’t be killed.
Photo: Gabi Kulcsar
I can’t remember ever seeing so many devastated people in one place. For many, especially the small teams, for those bikers who put everything at one stake to fulfil their childhood dream and take part in the Dakar this was a tragedy. It’s difficult to separate the consequences of the cancellation from those of the economic crisis that hit the world some months later, but definitely many competitors disappeared from cross-country rallies at that time. But on the other hand, strangely enough I’ve also heard stories of others who got involved in the Dakar family after and because of the cancellation.

After that day, for some weeks or at least some days, many of us were afraid that this could mean the end of the race we loved so much. Fortunately, it didn’t. The Dakar changed continent, but the adventure, and at least a small part of the spirit survived, to the joy of all those infected by the Dakar disease. Happy anniversary Dakar, we wish you another 40 years – at least!