The opening day of the 2021 Dakar Rally presented riders with a 623km stage, including 277km of timed special.
It is entirely on rough sandy tracks; the location immediately challenged competitors with complicated navigation.
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The course’s rocky nature also made bike preservation a priority. Especially with the new-for-2021 tire rules that allow the top riders a maximum of only six rear tires over the course of the event.
Ninth fastest in the qualifying Prologue. Toby Price used the first 75km of stage one to build his confidence and speed slowly.
He comes placed at kilometre 92, the two-time Dakar champ then moved into the lead, maintaining a strong pace to the finish.
Leading the provisional standings by 23 seconds, Price will open Monday’s stage two.
Toby Price: “Overall, the day has gone well. Navigation was certainly tricky today – it was hard to find the right pistes and valleys. And annoyingly I managed to get lost a little bit on the last few kilometres to the finish.
Other than a few other little mistakes, the rest of the stage was good. I’m happy with how I looked after the bike and the tires because we have to be careful with the new rules.
Looking ahead at the whole race. I think there will be some big swings in the standings. The plan is to stay consistent and not lose too much time.
I’m opening tomorrow, so hopefully, I won’t make too many big mistakes, and we can keep this momentum going.”
Matthias Walkner put in a characteristically stable ride for third quickest on the opening stage. Riding consistently fast over the 277km special.
The experienced Austrian minimized his mistakes to reach the finish just over 30 seconds behind Price ultimately.
Combined with his Prologue time, Walkner also provisionally lies third overall and aims to chase down his KTM 450 RALLY mounted teammate on stage two.
Matthias Walkner: “It turned out to be quite a tough day today. It was only 277km, but after a long liaison in the morning, the stage was quite tiring, especially with its tricky navigation.
One technical section looked more like the Erzbergrodeo than the Dakar. But the terrain mix was a good thing and very challenging. I’m happy with my start and looking forward to continuing tomorrow.”
Placing fourth behind Walkner, Sam Sunderland had to pass several riders and fight his way through their dust while pushing on towards the finish.
Despite the conditions, the Brit was able to climb into the top four by the halfway point and from there, kept up a definite rhythm to the finish.
Sam Sunderland: “It was a tricky stage today with some extremely technical sections – rocks upon rocks. And you had no choice but to trickle through in first gear.
Overall, I feel happy with my performance, I caught a bit of dust in the first part, but I suppose with setting off 27th that was always going to happen.
Working my way through to fourth at the finish is encouraging though. Getting the road books just 20 minutes from the start makes things the same for everyone.
And makes our overall strategy difficult to gauge this early on. I’m setting off the fourth tomorrow, so hopefully, I can make up a little more time.”
KTM Factory Racing’s junior rider Daniel Sanders made a solid start to his debut Dakar Rally, posting the third-fastest time on the qualifying Prologue.
As the third rider into stage one, the young Australian immediately set about chasing down the two riders ahead of him.
With the leaders making a mistake before the first checkpoint, Sanders found himself opening the stage. A hugely demanding task for the rally rookie.
Nevertheless, putting in a stable ride with no crashes. Daniel ultimately posted the 18th fastest time on the special. Unfortunately, a seven-minute penalty, awarded for speeding.
Relegated him down to 25th, both on the stage and in the provisional overall standings, heading into day two.
Daniel Sanders: “I enjoyed that, the terrain was incredible with loads of rocks and some very tricky notes in the roadbook.
It was cool to start my first ever Dakar stage up near the front, some of the top guys made a bit of a mistake early on. But I wasn’t entirely confident to trust my instincts and ended up losing a little time there, too.
After that, I was able to lead at the front for a while, which felt amazing. Overall, I’m right, the bike’s good. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Stage two of the 2021 Dakar Rally takes competitors from Bisha to Wadi Ad-Dawasir. Total stage length of 685km.
457km will be timed unique set with terrain featuring rolling dunes near the beginning of the route followed by faster tracks towards the finish.
Provisional Results Stage One – 2021 Dakar Rally
1. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 3:18:26
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 3:18:57 +0:31
3. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 3:18:58 +0:32
4. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 3:20:29 +2:03
5. Lorenzo Santolino (ESP), Sherco, 3:22:49 +4:23
8. Skyler Howes (USA), KTM, 3:23:51 +5:25
25. Daniel Sanders (AUS), KTM, 3:38:17 +19:51
Provisional Standings (after stage one) – 2021 Dakar Rally
1. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 3:43:58
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 3:44:21 +0:23
3. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 3:45:10 +1:12
4. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 3:48:09 +4:11
5. Lorenzo Santolino (ESP), Sherco, 3:48:57 +4:59
8. Skyler Howes (USA), KTM, 3:49:43 +5:45
25. Daniel Sanders (AUS), KTM, 4:03:13 +19:15