Dakar Rally to start from Eiffel Tower

As dawn breaks over Paris on New Year's Day, the 23rd Dakar rally will set off from the foot of the Eiffel Tower and begin a 20-day journey through France, Spain and the northwestern Sahara desert.

As dawn breaks over Paris on New Year's Day, the 23rd Dakar rally will set off from the foot of the Eiffel Tower and begin a 20-day journey through France, Spain and the northwestern Sahara desert.

Some 130 motorcycles, 110 cars and 30 trucks will make the journey in 20 stages, covering a total of 10,739 kilometers (6,658 miles), before the scheduled arrival in Dakar, Senegal, on Jan. 21.

Frenchmen Jean-Louis Schlesser, who has won the last two Dakar rallies, is favorite to win in the car category. Fellow countryman Richard Sainct, who has won the last two motorcycle races, is also tipped to make it a hattrick in his section, riding a KTM bike.

The 2001 Dakar rally marks the return of the race to Paris, with its traditional dawn start, for the first time in three years. Last year the race set off from Dakar and headed across the Sahara to Cairo, Egypt. The year before, the event left for the Senegalese capital from Granada, Spain.

The 2000 rally from Dakar to Cairo was interrupted midway, after an alleged terrorist threat forced organizers to airlift the entire race from Niger to Libya to avoid potential danger zones.

Event organizers said they had received security guarantees from the Moroccan and Mauritanian authorities for this year's rally, after rebels campaigning for independence for the Western Sahara from Morocco said they opposed the race.

Organizers said that the separatist Polisario Front had voiced its opposition to the 2001 Paris-Dakar passing through the Western Sahara, where war broke out in 1976 after Morocco annexed the Atlantic coast territory.

In addition to Morocco, including the Western Sahara, the race will pass through France, Spain, Mauritania, Mali and Senegal, taking in many dune crossings.

The 600 competitors taking part in the 2001 Paris-Dakar will be accompanied by eight helicopters, 17 planes and some 40 vehicles, carrying support staff and journalists.

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