The Dakar is the hardest, most grueling race on the planet. ASO Dakar Rally director, Étienne Lavigne and Dakar Rally Champion Marc Coma have certainly drawn up a different Dakar for 2017. The rally will start in Paraguay, heading to Argentina, and then climbing into Bolivia, and come back down to Argentina. This is much different than the original “Elephants Rock” and the banks of Lake Rose in Dakar. We used to cross the Atlantic via Gibraltar, going into Africa, and most of the rally was closer to sea level. Last year’s rally crossed the Andes for a short while, climbing up to 4000 meters in altitude. Most of the riders and crew did fine with this short stint of altitude. This year’s edition will be another story.

The crossing of Paraguay will be pretty standard, but the competition will heat up when the race enters Bolivia. Etienne Lavigne stated that “coping with the altitude is now among the parameters to control for both the Dakar competitors and mechanics, who have experienced all the consequences during their expeditions to Uyuni in previous years”. And even more, the rest day will be at 3600 meters (12,000 ft) in La Paz.

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2017 Dakar: The Stages
02/01: Asunción (Par)-Resistencia (Arg) – (58 meters / 190 feet)
03/01: Resistencia-San Miguel de Tucuman (Arg) – (1414 meters / 4639 feet)
04/01: San Miguel de Tucumán-San Salvador de Jujuy (Arg) – (4131 meters / 13553 feet)
05/01: San Salvador de Jujuy-Tupiza (Bol) – (3,656 meters / 11995 feet)
06/01: Tupiza-Oruro (Bol) ‎- (3735 meters / 12,254 feet)
07/01: Oruro-La Paz (Bol) – (3650 meters / 11975 feet)
08/01: Rest day at La Paz
09/01: La Paz-Uyuni (Bol) – (3656 meters / 11995 feet)
10/01: Uyuni-Salta (Arg) – (1152 meters / 3780 feet)
11/01: Salta-Chilecito (Arg) – (1080 meters / 3540 feet)
12/01: Chilecito-San Juan (Arg) – (640 meters / 2100 feet)
13/01: San Juan-Río Cuarto (Arg) – (452 meters / 1483 feet)
14/01: Río Cuarto-Buenos Aires (Arg) – (25 meters / 82 feet)

dakar 2017 final a

It appears that the 2017 Rally will spend about 10 days at altitude. The range of altitude the racers and crews will face is between 4000 and 14000 feet.

One thing for sure, the Dakar Rally organization is not fooling around. I predict that there will be more abandons, medical issues, injuries and possibly even deaths than in any other year. The extremes in altitude will play a big part, and many of the abandons may not be due to driver skill, but from the mechanics not being capable to work on the machines from acute mountain sickness. If you are participating for this year’s Dakar rally, you might want to read on.

The challenges that the riders and crew members will face are many. Besides all of the normal obstacles of Dakar, the altitude is going to prove difficult. At higher altitudes, altitude sickness and dehydration sets in quickly. Drinking water is a big deal in the Dakar and will there be enough? There could certainly be more water borne sicknesses from local water sources this year. So far it sounds very difficult, but there is hope for those who are properly prepared. It’s possible that the ASO crew themselves will be inundated with riders and crew members.

Altitude and Hypoxia and the Dakar Rally

A continuous supply of oxygen is essential for proper physical and mental functioning, no matter the environment. If this supply is compromised for any reason, a condition called hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen, results. Everyone who travels to high altitude experiences some degree of low oxygen / hypoxia before their body adapts to the lower oxygen levels. At high altitude, exercise and even simple tasks become more difficult. Eventually mental effects begin to appear.

Large gaps of knowledge still exist in our understanding of how the body is impacted by hypoxia. Fitness does not protect against altitude sickness. There is little to no research exploring how altitude affects vulnerable populations, such as elderly people with underlying cardiovascular, respiratory, and metabolic diseases. Little is known about the interaction between altitude and underlying diseases. For example, smoking and physical fitness do not predict who will have adverse effects from altitude exposure. Whereas obesity and other heart diseases seem to increase susceptibility to altitude illness. People over 50 years old have a lower incidence of altitude illness than all other age groups. Women are more susceptible to acute mountain sickness than men. The point is that who gets sick from high altitude is a mystery and the best you can do is to be prepared.

The next post will talk about altitude sickness