Toby Price has taken an early lead to the Dakar Rally in 2021, claiming the Stage 1 win on Sunday as broken, stony and zigzagging pistes severely reduced the average speeds and navigation proved tricky on a deceptive route that took in several dry river crossings.
Ricky Brabec had the task of opening the day and navigating the 277 km special with Joan Barreda and Daniel Sanders in close contention. It didn’t take long for challenges to appear in the special stage, Brabec trailing Andrew Short by nearly 12-minutes at the first time check, and Barreda also losing eight-minutes.
Yamaha’s Franco Caimi meanwhile posted the initial fastest time to the first check, with team-mates Adrien Van Beveren, Andrew Short and Jamie McCanney in the leading group.
Xavier De Soultrait then went into the early lead after reaching that first time check, outpacing Caimi, however it wouldn’t last with Australian Toby Price taking control at kilometre 135, pulling out a 38-second lead.
Brabec meanwhile continued to struggle, now 18-minutes off leading pace halfway through the stage, as Price extended his lead to 1m33s over Kevin Benavides at kilometre 222.
Price went on to officially claimed the stage win, marking a great start to his 2021 Dakar efforts. Leading the provisional standings, Price will open Monday’s stage two.
“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 kilometers 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 with the new rules we really have to be careful. Looking ahead at the whole race, I think there are going to be some big swings in the standings – the plan is to try and 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.”
Kevin Benavides and Matthias Walkner completed the top three. Benavides kept up a relentless pace throughout the stage, catching the riders ahead and finishing by opening the track as the race headed for the Bisha finish-line.
“Today was quite a difficult day for the first stage of the Dakar. There was a lot of navigation with very complicated and technical areas and tracks filled with rocks. At the beginning of the special, it was difficult for me to find the right feeling with the bike and the reading of the Roadbook, but then I began to loosen up and feel more at ease. In the final 80 kilometres I managed to catch the guys in front and opened the track, so it was a good day and I am very happy about it. This has just started and this Dakar Rally is already really intense. We will have to make the most of every single day.“
Matthias Walkner put in a characteristically solid ride for third quickest on the opening stage. Riding consistently fast over the 277 km special, the experienced Austrian minimised his mistakes to ultimately reach the finish just over 30-seconds behind Price.
“It turned out to be quite a tough day today. It was only 277 km, but after a long liaison in the morning the stage was quite tiring, especially with its tricky navigation. There was one really technical section that looked more like the Erzbergrodeo than the Dakar, but the mix of terrain was a good thing and definitely very challenging. I’m happy with my start and looking forward to continuing tomorrow.”
Prologue winner and defending champion Brabec finished the stage 18m32s behind the leading pace in 24th, just ahead of Australian Dakar debutante Daniel Sanders 25th (+19m51s).
“We won the prologue, but unfortunately, it hit us hard. We opened today and it wasn’t really as easy as we were expecting. The other guys started back and they dealt their cards a little bit better than we did. We didn’t really sit back in the prologue which led us up to the front. Stage one was difficult to navigate. It wasn’t fast. There were tons of rocks and slower speeds. I was trying to manage the rear tyre as we have to go more than one day on this tyre. I wasn’t sure of the speed and some of the other guys were on the gas a little bit harder. Hopefully in the end it’ll all pay off but, as of now, it’s only the first day and we have eleven left. Tomorrow we’ll start a bit further back with sand dunes and sand piste. Hopefully we can push up and make some time back.”
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, the Victorian put in a solid ride with no crashes, Daniel ultimately posted the 18th fastest time on the special. A seven-minute penalty, awarded for speeding, unfortunately relegated him down to 25th, both on the stage and in the provisional overall standings, heading into day two.
“I really enjoyed that, the terrain was incredible with loads of rocks and some very tricky notes in the road book. It was really 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 quite 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 good, the bike’s good, I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Sam Sunderland is fourth, ahead of Lorenzo Santolino, while Soultrait had to settle for sixth. Caimi, Howes, Luciano Benavides and Mena completed the top-10, with 8m16s separating first from tenth.
“It was a really 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 really encouraging though. Getting the road books just 20 minutes from the start makes things the same for everyone, but also makes our overall strategy difficult to gauge this early on. I’m setting off fourth tomorrow, so hopefully I can make up a little more time.”
Australian Michael Burgess (BAS Dakar KTM Racing Team) came home 34th, 38m19s behind leader Price. Countryman Joseph Houlihan (Nomadas Adventure) landed 68th.
Stage two of the 2021 Dakar Rally will see riders take on the first sand dunes of the event. Each rider will have their navigational skills put to the test throughout the 457-kilometre special and once completed, end the day in the town of Wadi Ad-Dawasir.
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