Reigning bike champion Sunderland claimed, “It’s a big honour for me to be going in with the #1 plate on my bike and this also puts some weight on my shoulders. I’ll be doing my best to keep a cool head and take each day as it comes.”

The 2018 Dakar Rally organisers ASO have unveiled a punishing route for the rally raid elite to tackle when the race returns to South America from January 6-20.

The car, bike, truck, quad and UTV competitors will have to navigate their way across 10,000km of the world’s most hostile motorsport terrain to complete the course.

The 40th anniversary edition of the world’s most iconic rally raid race returns to South America for the 10th time including a trip to Peru after a five-year absence.

Former champions Stéphane Peterhansel, Nasser Al-Attiyah, Sam Sunderland, Toby Price and Eduard Nikolaev will need to draw on all their experience to get through the opening six stages leaving from Lima.

Current truck champion Nikolaev revealed, “The race starts in Peru which has challenging desert sections with big dunes. This race is going to be a serious battle from the first day onwards without any warm-up.”

Anyone expecting it to get easier once the race crosses into Bolivia for three stages will be denied relief as the extreme altitude and dramatic weather changes test everyone to the limit, the La Paz rest day giving the field a much needed chance to regroup.

Argentina provides the backdrop for the final stretch as the draining heat and perilous terrain test the remaining competitors heading into the Cordoba finish.

Red Bull KTM Factory Team rider Price said, “Even though we’ve seen the route you still never really know what the Dakar can throw at you until you’re out there racing.”

2018 Dakar Rally route:

The big numbers

7 stages will be 100 percent dunes/off-piste

1 marathon stage for all categories

1 extra marathon stage exclusively for bikes and quads

Over 4,500km of timed special stage

Nearly 4,500km of liaison sections

5 days at an altitude of more than 3,000 metres above sea level.