The three-times Dakar Rally motorcyclist winner Richard Sainct has his sights set on another victory when the world's most famous endurance race reaches the capital of Senegal on the west coast of Africa on 18 January.
The Frenchman goes into today's opening stage from Clermont-Ferrand to Narbonne on his Gauloises KTM with one thing on his mind. "After winning even once, finishing anything less than first is a disappointment," Sainct said, "but winning a Dakar is always a very emotional experience, a huge challenge and that is what keeps me motivated. I won't be starting to finish second."
However, with this year's event billed as the most difficult for 19 years, Sainct knows he will not have things easy. "The route looks long, varied and technical and that suits me just fine," he added. "My biggest rival is myself. My biggest fears are of crashing, running into a mechanical problem or getting lost.
"After that there are 11 KTM factory riders, all of whom could win. Of those I'd say that in addition to Fabrizio Meoni, Nani Roma and Cyril Despres are the biggest threats."
The desert dunes and searing temperatures also await the former world rally champion Colin McRae as the Scot takes on a new challenge with his Dakar Rally debut. McRae's previous experience of Africa is limited to the Kenyan Safari Rally but he will have 11,052km (6,867 miles) and 18 days to see a different side to the continent in his Nissan 4x4 pick-up.
"I'm excited and probably a wee bit daunted," the 1995 world champion said. "What I know about Dakar is what I've seen on television or been told.
"It's very much a journey into the unknown. But that's what makes it so exciting. It's a similar feeling I had when I went into my first rally in 1985."
The bravest Briton, however, is Patsy Quick, who will be riding her KTM bike 12 months after the crash in last year's event which left her needing life-saving surgery for a ruptured spleen. The antique furniture shop owner from Sussex has raised £45,000 to take part again. "I knew in my heart of hearts that I wouldn't be happy until I went back and conquered the whole race," said the 37-year-old Quick, whose husband, Mike, will be her mechanic.
Some 411 entrants are set to start the 26th edition of the race, of which 200 are motorcycle riders and 146 are in cars. Seventeen former winners are competing. The rally, which in previous years has seen deaths from mines and ambushes by bandits, heads into Morocco from southern Spain on Sunday and crosses Mauritania, Mali and Burkina Faso before ending in Senegal.
INTO AFRICA THE DAKAR RALLY ROUTE
Stage 1: Clermont-Ferrand to Narbonne 396km/246 miles
Stage 2: Narbonne to Castellon 531km/330 miles
Stage 3: Castellon to Tangiers 831km/516 miles
Stage 4: Tangiers to Er Rachidia, Morocco 752km/467 miles
MONDAY 5 JANUARY
Stage 5: Er Rachidia to Ouarzazate, Morocco 575km/357 miles
TUESDAY 6 JANUARY
Stage 6: Ouarzazate to Tan-Tan, Morocco 803km/499 miles
WEDNESDAY 7 JANUARY
Stage 7: Tan-Tan to Atar, Mauritania 1,055km/656 miles
THURSDAY 8 JANUARY
Stage 8: Atar to Tidjikja, Mauritania 389km/242 miles
FRIDAY 9 JANUARY
Stage 9: Tidjikja to Nema, Mauritania 739km/459 miles
SATURDAY 10 JANUARY
Stage 10: Nema to Mopti, Mali 910km/565 miles
SUNDAY 11 JANUARY
Stage 11: Mopti to Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso 751km/467 miles
MONDAY 12 JANUARY
TUESDAY 13 JANUARY
Stage 12: Bobo-Dioulasso to Bamako, Mali 666km/414 miles
WEDNESDAY 14 JANUARY
Stage 13: Bamako to Ayoun El Atrous, Mauritania 733km/455 miles
THURSDAY 15 JANUARY
Stage 14: Ayoun El Atrous to Tidjikja, Mauritania 513km/319 miles
FRIDAY 16 JANUARY
Stage 15: Tidjikja to Nouakchott, Mauritania 630km/391 miles
SATURDAY 17 JANUARY
Stage 16: Nouakchott to Dakar, Senegal 665km/413 miles
SUNDAY 18 JANUARY
Stage 17: Dakar to Dakar 113km/70 miles
TOTAL DISTANCE: 11,052km/6,867 miles