Sainct hoping for fourth Dakar win

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

TODAY

Stage 1: Clermont-Ferrand to Narbonne 396km/246 miles

TOMORROW

Stage 2: Narbonne to Castellon 531km/330 miles

SATURDAY

Stage 3: Castellon to Tangiers 831km/516 miles

SUNDAY

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

Rest day

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

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