Well it’s started, I arrived in Lima, Peru late last night 17 hours after leaving London Heathrow. The 40 minute taxi journey from the airport to my hotel was an experience in itself, lots of close shaves, constant horn bibbing, but no accidents and not a hint of road rage, which was refreshing.
There wasn’t much conversation going on with my cab driver due to my distinct lack of Spanish and his lack of English, but when we reached the coast road, he pointed over the edge of the cliff, started jumping up and down in his seat saying ‘Dakar, Dakar, Dakar.’
I peered out the window to see a vast line of tents, bikes, cars and trucks filling the beach that must have extended for over a KM. This is where the race will start from on Saturday and judging from by cabbies reaction - the locals are excited.
This morning I made my way to the Hilton Hotel where race organisers ASO have set up for stage one of the administrative checks we all have to go through. It’s all new to me and I didn’t really know what to expect, but it’s a big deal – there are TV crews everywhere, helpful ASO staff and a serious buzz of anticipation in the air.
From here I made the twenty minute transfer to what’s called the Dakar village – it’s the area I saw in the cab the night before and its vast. This is where every competitor, support person, assistance staff, journalist and photographer has to go through administrative checks. In total there are around 4000 of us so it’s a logistical masterpiece to get everyone processed.
There is a distinct lack of chaos, in fact it’s pretty serene, the tents are air conditioned, and the procedure of checking in thousands of people appears to have been perfected over the last 35 years of Dakar.
With the administrative checks done the riders have to put their bikes through final scrutineering before being introduced on the podium in front of thousands of passionate and vocal Peruvian fans.
Over the three days Dakar organisers are expecting 200,000 spectators to come and witness the Dakar village and that’s before any of the racing even takes place. The scale of the event is hard to get your head around.
As MCN’s WSB reporter, I’ve been to big races, I’ve also attended some of the most popular MotoGP rounds, but this is a different league all together.
In total there are over 400 competitors from over 50 countries and in terms of media there’s in excess of 400 accredited press.
So far we’re all being treated very well, air conditioned shuttle busses and canopies in the press office. Right now it doesn’t feel like the hardest race in the world but I’m under no illusion that this is the calm before the storm! I’ve got another relatively quiet day tomorrow with a compulsory briefing in the evening and then it’s goodbye nice hotel and we’ll be into the race.
Think of me at 4am on Saturday morning. I’ll be walking down the street with my rucksack on my back on route to catch a plane to get to the first bivouac. It will be night number one of 15 in my cosy 1 ½ man tent.