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When the Dakar changed Africa for South America

The 2008 edition of the mythical competition was canceled due to terrorist attacks and that forced its organizers to find a new setting for it.

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Eduardo Alan He is an Argentine businessman who loves adventure. Like many of his generation he grew up watching the images of Dakar Rally on TV and promised himself that one day he would participate in that race. Fulfilling his dream was not an easy task, but he succeeded. He raised the money to pay for the registration and the care of his motorcycle and, obviously, he made a hole in his schedule to be absent from his company during the first days of January 2008.

As had been the case since 2006, the starting point for the strenuous competition was Lisbon (Portugal). That's where Alan went, excited about the possibility of fulfilling his wish. Their objectives were clear: enjoy the experience, beat the desert and integrate that 50 percent of competitors who usually reach the end. Eduardo, like so many others, was oblivious to what was happening in Mauritania, one of the African countries through which he was going to pass the test.

Eduardo Alan
Eduardo Alan on the starting ramp of the 2008 edition of the Dakar.

On December 24, 2007, in the middle of Christmas Eve, French citizens had died after suffering a terrorist attack in the streets of Aleg, 250 kilometers from Nouakchott, the country's capital; And that had put the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs on alert.

The organization of the race was aware of the situation. He considered removing Mauritania from the route and reaching Senegal by an alternative route at the cost of losing the eight stages that were scheduled in Mauritanian territory. However, the Gallic authorities were forceful with their recommendation: cancel the 30th edition of the Dakar because the lives of the participants were in danger.

On January 4, one day before the official game, all the competitors gathered at the Bethlehem Cultural Center to listen to Etienne Lavigne, race director. They waited for the usual words before the imminent beginning of a new adventure, but it was not like that. "After several contacts with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the French Government and according to their firm recommendations, the organization of the Dakar rally has made the decision to cancel the race"Lavigne announced to the amazement of those present. He then argued the position taken on the basis of "In the current climate of tension in Mauritania" and added that, “The French Government invoked reasons of State. And the motives of the state are not discussed and are not explained ”.

Dakar Africa
In 2007 the last Dakar was contested in Africa.

At the same time, Lavigne revealed the impossibility of urgently scheduling a plan B, which would have included a change in the planned route. “This year's route made it impossible to go around Mauritania. The decision to cancel was the saddest and the only one that could be taken responsibly ", he acknowledged.

Like so many others, Alan couldn't believe what he had heard. After so much sacrifice, he saw how that dream he had embraced as a child was falling apart. He was devastated, in no mood for anything. He did not know what to do or how to react to such news. Of course, I was still unaware that the company had Amaury Sport Organization, Organizer of the race, she was evaluating moving the Dakar to another part of the world because the situation on the African continent was increasingly complicated (and the cancellation proved it). And that that place was his country: Argentina.

Since 2006 ASO has closely followed a competition called Through Las Pampas that was carried out along Argentine and Chilean roads, with Los Andes as an imposing witness. It had the same spirit as the Dakar, although it lasted a dozen days. The French company had already contacted its organizers in 2007 and, very secretly, they were planning the possibility of taking it as a base for a South American Dakar.

The cancellation, which caused great economic losses, precipitated everything and began negotiations with the two countries to obtain the necessary support that would allow moving from continent to the most extreme race in the world.

Alan became aware of such a possibility the same day of the cancellation and that made him return his soul to his body. Although it was hard for him to believe that, finally, he was going to fulfill his wish and that he would do it in his country.

Eduardo Alan
Eduardo Alan raced the Dakar 2009.

On February 12, 2008, it was officially announced that the 2009 Dakar would be held in Argentina and Chile with a start and finish in Buenos Aires and rest in Valparaíso, on the other side of the mountain range.

Alan ran and was the main protagonist of this first South American edition, which took place between January 3 and 15. He was lost in the dunes of Nihüil (Mendoza) for several hours and was rescued by his friends. Despite the setback, which had a great media coverage, he continued in the race and reached the end. Even today he is moved when he remembers the reception he had from the public. He finished 109th overall in motorcycles, but was so or more applauded that Marcos Patronelli, second in quadricycles ...

“When I think about everything that happened in those few months, I can't believe it. I went to run the Dakar in Africa and the Dakar ended up passing through the door of my house. Is incredible", he usually says. And yes, because no one would have imagined that such a career would find its new home in this part of the world.

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Automundo is the blog about news from the automotive industry, motorsport and the culture of the region. Director: Diego Durruty.

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