The 2021 Dakar Rally got off to a tough start with a 623-kilometre stage – including 277 kilometres against the clock – which turned out to be both highly-technical and navigationally complex. After setting off from Jeddah this morning, riders faced a long 311-kilometre liaison section on asphalt before reaching the start of the timed special, which, contrary to what had been announced in last night’s briefing, turned out to be a very slow one. Cumbersome, broken, stony and zigzagging pistes severely reduced the average speeds of the stage. Navigation proved tricky on a deceptive route that took in several dry river crossings. The special stage ended 35 kilometres away from the new bivouac located in Bisha.
Ricky Brabec and Joan Barreda were well aware that today would be a tough day. After claiming the top two positions in yesterday’s prologue, they faced the unenviable task of opening the track on this first ‘real’ day of the 2021 Dakar. Little did the American and the Spanish imagine that the predictions for the day would receive such a shake-up. Complicated navigation effectively put paid to any chances of finishing among the front-runners, as the pair conceded time to their rivals over the opening ten kilometres of the special.
Elsewhere, Kevin Benavides was taking full advantage. The Argentinean Monster Energy Honda Team rider 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. Second place in this first stage grants him the same position in the overall standings.
José Ignacio Cornejo conceded time after some minor navigational errors due to the complicated handling in the rocky areas where he was forced to proceed more cautiously. The Chilean, nevertheless, remains only twelve minutes adrift of his team-mate.
Tomorrow, the second stage of this Dakar will take the riders from Bisha to Wadi Ad-Dawasir. The stage will feature higher mileage than today, with more than 450 kilometres against the clock out of a total of some 700 kilometres on the day. The riders will hit the first sand dunes early in the day before moving on to open track and eventually finishing with stretches of sandy track.