These days the most dangerous race in the world starts in Buenos Aires-32 years and 7000 miles from Place de la Concorde where Thierry Sabine's crazy Paris-Dakar adventure began. After terrorist threats cancelled the 30th running in 2008, Paris-based Amaury Sport Organisation pulled the world's most grueling test of off-road endurance out of North Africa and planted it in South America. There, it took competitors two weeks to cover 5959 miles of the roughest country in Argentina and Chile while 296 million less courageous souls followed vicariously through various media.
After Dakar '09 put more eyes on Argentina than anything since Evita, ASO cranked the show up a notch with a tougher route that crisscrossed the Chilean Andes between Iquique and Santiago-with two of the 14 stages in Chile's Atacama Desert, otherwise known as the driest place on earth. New rules put all professional riders on 450cc singles to slow things down and level the playing field a bit. All, that is, except the 690cc KTMs, which were fitted with intake restrictors to make them act like 450s. The 161 bikes would take separate routes from the cars and trucks when necessary to exploit their fundamental strengths and avoid potentially deadly conflicts.
Racing across the vast nothingness of South America, Chile's own Francisco Lopez Contardo
In the end, Chile's own Francisco "Chaleco" Lopez Contardo was the third bike overall, winning three stages on a Team Geofil Aprilia RXV4.5 and earning the Italian marque its first Dakar stage win. Norwegian KTM rider Pal-Anders Ullevalseter came second, just over an hour behind the winner, Cyril Despres on another Red Bull KTM. Rolling into Buenos Aires after 51 hours, 10 minutes and 37 seconds of racing and three stage wins, the Frenchman claimed his third overall victory, equaling the record of his late teammate, Richard Sainct. It marked the tenth win in as many years for KTM.
"I am human," Depres said at the finish "I know I have been riding this bike for 15 days and I am exhausted, but the little strength I had left just went in tears. KTM played a big part in this victory. They trusted us. We chose everyone. We have been working 24/7 for months. One thing is clear: I was not afraid of losing. I just wanted to win. And this will to win was stronger than the fear of losing. It was a tough Dakar, a beautiful Dakar and I am so glad I won."
Racing anything big and fast hundreds of miles from anything remotely resembling civilization can be deadly. A 28-year-old woman died during this year's opening stage after being hit by a truck that also injured several spectators. Only about 40 percent of those who start actually finish, and 49 have died in the attempt thus far. They don't call it the most dangerous race in the world for nothing.