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This year's Dakar Rally with its duration of just 10 days looked like a walk in the park, especially when compared to the extra long 2018 edition that celebrated the 40th anniversary of the race with 14 racing days. The critics that year after year continue to make from this race their "most beloved hate" were fast to jump in a choir of critics. One detail was missing in the critics... last year in the 4 initial stages held in Peru carnage was wide spread among the caravan that was surprised by an extremely nasty and unforgiving terrain that claimed many racers’ dreams, from the top to the bottom of the classifications. By the time the race left Peru the caravan looked like they came out of the fight with a big cat, full of scratches and scars all over the place.... and then came Bolivia, but that is another story.
This year the prospect of "just" 10 days of race made many to think that the race will be easier, that the standard has dropped and that this wasn't even the hardest race of the world any more... but again, the race is 100% Peru... just like the organization says.
The first stage with 84km (the longest first stage in Dakar history) was like a very soft introduction.  The second one dropped the participants in the middle of the Peruvian desert with all the benefits: sand, stones, heat and dust... tons and tons of dust like nowhere else on earth.  From that point until now the detail that pops out in every single image is the dust: white dust, brown dust, yellow dust, grey dust... We already had our fair share of "racing dust" but like this we never saw.
The long stages in such a demanding terrain like the Peruvian desert are already a big challenge.  The dust adds such a nasty extra layer of difficulties that to be able to reach the halfway mark in this race is already a big achievement.
The participants and their mechanics are "enjoying" maybe the most difficult South American Dakar ever, that seems like not being marked by rain, like many of the recent editions, of which some stages were even cancelled due to the wet conditions, but by the extreme dryness of the Peruvian ground.  
The race continues for 5 more days until the arrival back in Peru's capital Lima. The conditions are expected to improve a little bit as the route moves to areas with less dust and more sand, but the dust clouds will still be there. Remembering the Portuguese legend of King Sebastian, who is still expected home after vanishing in the Moroccan fog hundreds of years ago, maybe all the ones that will be able to emerge from this year's Dakar dust in Lima on Thursday could be crowed Kings of the Dakar Rally in one of its most intense and hardest editions until now, even if it had the shortest distance ever.

Rally-Raid Network
Photo ASO / @World / Charly Lopez

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