The 26th Annual Telefonica Dakar cross-country rally raid will open at midnight January 1, 2004 with the prologue. The event will cover 17 stages over 18 days with one day of rest. Three stages will take place in Europe, four in Morocco, six in Mauritania, two in Mali, one each in Burkina Faso and Senegal. The route will cover 11,163.5 km.
There will be two marathon stages and two stages where GPS will not be allowed. The longest stage is Tan-Tan to Atar and the shortest is still the final loop of Dakar.
The route for the 2004 "Be A part of the Legend" Dakar will cover from picturesque streets and canals in France to sandy lowlands and through the plains and ergs of Africa and into the mountainous regions, the Sahara desert and along the Niger River.
Thursday, January 1
Prologue: 2 km - Liaison: 395 km - Total: 397 km
The Grande Halle d'Auvergne will host the prologue which will consist of two parallel tracks. The starting order for Friday's special will be based on the outcome of the prologue. The route once the competitors finish the prologue will be along the motorway to Narbonne.
STAGE 2: Narbonne to Castellon, Spain
Friday January 2
Liaison 6 km - Special 25 km - Liaison 532 km - Total 563 km
France will host the first special of the event around Narbonne after a night's rest for the competitors. The special will finish at the Abbaye de Fontfroide. The teams will then proceed on the liaison to the Iberian peninsula, they will arrive in Castellon on the east coast of Spain.
Stage 3: Castellon to Tanger, Morocco
Saturday January 3
Liaison 4 km - Special 9 km - Liaison 852 km - Total 865 km
The third stage will take place in Spain with a short special ending on the beach. They will then have a long liaison to reach Algeciras in order to embark to Tangier. The final 13 km of the liaison will be when the disembark and head to Tanger for their first night in Africa.
Stage 4: Tanger to Er Rachidia, Morocco
Sunday January 4
Liaison 233 km - Special 75 km - Liaison 444 km - Total 752 km
The first liaison of 233 km will be very fast, then they will enter the special which will be sandy and in the Mamoora forest. The stage is considered by many to be a warm-up of things to come.
Stage 5: Er Rachidia to Ouarzazate, Morocco
Monday January 5
Liaison 56 km - Special 337 km - Liaison 182 km - Total 575 km
Stage five will mark how difficult Dakar can become as the competitors will face a very fast special with rocky tracks. Then onto the Erg Chebbib and the sand.
Stage 6: Ouarzazate to Tan-Tan, Morocco
Tuesday, January 6
Liaison 176 km - Special 351 km - Liaison 276 km - Total 803 km
Morocco will continue to hold the key to entering the other countries on the African continent. The challenge that the drivers face will prove or disprove that they have the talent it takes to maneuver on unforgiving tracks that are full of traps and very rocky. The competitors must be on full alert to survive, a valuable lesson learned early to survive the event.
Wednesday January 7
Liaison 345 km - Special 701 km - Liaison 9 km - Total 1055 km
The night stage and one of the two marathon stages. The teams will leave Morocco and enter Mauritania for the Atar special. The start of the special will be in the dune fields before the crossing of the Erg Oumaghawabe.
Stage 8: Atar to Tidjikja, Mauritania
Thursday, January 8
Liaison 34 km - Special 355 km - Liaison 4 km - Total 393 km
Navigation is one of the main ingredients needed to finish the eighth stage. Technique and excellent driving will also be required as the competition starts in the bed of the Wadi Toungad and goes through the passes and ergs.
Stage 9: Tidjikja to Nema, Mauritania
Friday January 9
Liaison 3 km - Special 736 km - Total 739 km
Stage nine will be the longest and hardest special stage this year, the second of the two marathon stages. The start will be through soft sand and then the teams arrive in Tichit where things will only get tougher. The stage is a legend in its own right (a sandstorm brought it to a halt one year) and last year, it lived up to its legend when many of the racers ran into problems.
Stage 10: Nema to Mopti, Mali
Saturday January 10
Liaison 4 km - Special 345 km - Liaison 561 km - Total 910 km
Recent floods in Mauritania could affect what could be termed a "Sunday drive" as the competitors will have to watch out for holes on the route to Dogon Country in Mali. This stage one in which GPS is not allowed and the drivers/riders could get lost as they find the road to Sokolo, the end of the special.
Stage 11: Mopti to Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso
Sunday January 11
Liaison 63 km - Special 458 km - Liaison 236 km - Total 757 km
Another tough stage which has been flooded by the rains and one in which the competitors must battle the winds as they climb the Bandiagarra cliff. The scenic view makes up for the difficulty as the descend into a valley of countryside villages.
Day of Rest: Bobo-Dioulasso
Monday January 12
The competitors who have survived the Dakar after 11 stages deserve the day of rest in Bobo-Dioulasso. The second-largest town in Burkina Faso is located on a plateau along the Abidjan-Niger Railroad.
Tuesday January 13
Liaison 85 km - Special 213 km - Liaison 368 km - Total 666 km
Today the drivers and riders will enter the bush before coming into a tropical forest. The track will be very fast as they watch out for obstacles. Many have commented that the stage is similar to a World Rally Championship event.
Stage 13: Bamako to Ayoun el Atrous, Mauritania
Wednesday January 14
Liaison 230 km - Special 478 km - Liaison 26 km - Total 734 km
A new special will greet the competitors as they head out of Mali and back to Mauritania. The liaison is a tarmac road onto sandy tracks. It is unique in that it is fast with changes of direction. Navigators will have their work cut out for them on the special.
Stage 14: Ayoun el Atrous to Tidjikja, Mauritania
Thursday January 15
Special 547 km -Liaison 4 km -Total 551 km
Small sand dunes lead the drivers/riders along sandy tracks as they head north to the gigantic dunes up to the Taskast cliff, one in which they must climb on the road to Nouakchott.
Stage 15: Tidjikja to Nouakchott, Mauritania
Friday January 16
Liaison 2 km -Special 579 km -Liaison 70 km -Total 651 km
Camel grass will greet the competitors on 200 km of an off-road route. As the closing stages grow nearer, the drivers find on this the 15th stage the need to keep an eye on fuel consumption in order to cross the Amoukrouz dune field.
Stage 16: Nouakchott to Dakar, Senegal
Saturday January 17
Liaison 60 km - Special 191 km - Liaison 396 km - Total 647 km
From Mauritania to Senegal with the finish in site, many feel that the dangers and difficulties are now behind them, but is it? The twisty sandy road can catch one off-guard but at the end of the special is a long liaison taking them to Dakar.
Stage 17: Dakar loop
Sunday January 18
Liaison 42 km - Special 27 km - Liaison 37 km - Total 106 km
The finish where the final special will take the competitors around the Lac Rose. However, tradition will be broken for the 26th Annual Dakar. The start on the beach in which they line-up will not happen. Instead they will start one-by-one by the lake and finish on the beach.
The podium finish will be inside the M?ridien, where the Awarding of Prizes will be made.