The Dakar Rally will start in the Middle East for the first time next year with Saudi Arabia signing a five-year deal to host the prestigious race.

The Dakar originated as a race from Paris to Senegal in 1979 and spent more than 30 years in Africa before relocating for the past 11 editions to South America.

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The event was relocated in 2009 following security fears over the race’s ongoing place in Africa.

Saudi Arabia boasts 1.4 million square miles of desert as well as the Asir mountain range, to give the field – on two wheels and four – the necessary challenge.

Cyril Despres (five-time Dakar winner): “When I first heard the rumours, I remembered some words from the Dakar’s founder, Thierry Sabine. A long time ago, he talked about the meaning of discovery: if you love discovering Africa, you will also love to discover other parts of the world. This came to my mind when we first moved to South America, and now, 10 years on, it again comes to mind.”

Stephane Peterhansel (13-time Dakar winner): “When I first heard the Dakar was moving to Saudi Arabia, I was a little surprised. I didn’t expect it at all. But then I checked the country and saw it’s a very nice place to race. Considering it’s such a large country, with all kinds of terrain, the route should be really interesting. A lot of open desert gives me hope that the new Dakar will look and feel like Africa.”

Sam Sunderland (2017 Dakar bike winner): “This change is good for me, because I’ve lived in Dubai for 10 years, adapting well to the Middle East. It’s positive for the Dakar to discover a new territory. One thing is for sure, though: everybody in this sport is excited to discover a new land, a new race, a new format.”

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