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Sunderland fourth in Dakar opener

Sam Sunderland in the day one of Dakar racing

The opening day of the 2021 Dakar Rally presented riders with a 623km stage, including 277km of timed special. Held entirely on rough sandy tracks, the stage immediately challenged competitors with difficult navigation. The rocky nature of the course 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 slowly build his confidence and speed. Placing second at kilometer 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 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.”

Matthias Walkner put in a characteristically solid ride for third quickest on the opening stage. Riding consistently fast over the 277km special, the experienced Austrian minimized his mistakes to ultimately reach the finish just over 30 seconds behind Price. Combined with his Prologue time, Walkner also provisionally lies third overall and will be aiming 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. 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.”

Placing fourth behind Walkner, Sam Sunderland had to pass a number of 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 solid rhythm to the finish.

Sam Sunderland:“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.”

Brit Jamie McCanney finished 19th and David Knight 37th and Neil Hawker 58th.

Stage two of the 2021 Dakar Rally takes competitors from Bisha to Wadi Ad-Dawasir. Featuring a total stage length of 685km, 457km will be timed special stage with terrain featuring rolling sand dunes near the beginning of the route followed by faster tracks towards the finish.