Arras, France:The 2001 edition of the Dakar rally has started in France. Competitors in the Dakar Rally saluted an enthusiastic crowd on Friday before setting off after dark for the opening stage of one of motor sport's toughest tests. The Mitsubishi of Germany's 2001 winner and first female champion Kleinschmidt greeted the spectators amidst loud applause. Defending motorcycling champion Fabrizio Meoni of Italy was also welcomed on the podium in his KTM, together with his main rivals Jordi Arcarons and Carlos Gavardo, both from Spain. This year's rally, which ends in Senegal on January 13 after crossing the Sahara desert and rugged African terrain, has been shortened slightly to 9,436 km.