Rallye

2021 Dakar Stage 1: Toby Price leads after opening stage

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Australian Toby Price holds a 31 second lead at the conclusion of the opening stage of the 2021 Dakar. Photo: Rally Zone
Toby Price has got his 2021 Dakar Rally campaign off to the perfect start with victory on stage one ahead of Kevin Benavides and Matthias Walkner.

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‰Ûªs stage two.

‰ÛÏOverall, the day has gone well," Price refelected. "Navigation was certainly tricky today ‰ÛÒ 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‰Ûªm 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 ‰ÛÒ the plan is to try and stay consistent and not lose too much time. I‰Ûªm opening tomorrow so hopefully I won‰Ûªt make too many big mistakes and we can keep this momentum going.‰Û
Kevin Benavides came home second on the opening stage. Photo: Rally Zone
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.

"Today was quite a difficult day for the first stage of the Dakar," Benavides said. "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 on his way to third place.
Price's team-mater 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 teammate on stage two.

‰ÛÏIt turned out to be quite a tough day today," Walkner said. "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‰Ûªm happy with my start and looking forward to continuing tomorrow.‰Û
Australian rider Daniel Sanders was one of the first to leave after finishing third in the prologue, he was 18th but lost time for with a speeding penalty and was classed 25th.
Australian rider Daniel Sanders made a very strong start to his debut Dakar Rally, posting the third fastest time on the qualifying Prologue. As the third rider into stage one, the young rookie 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 ‰ÛÒ a hugely demanding task for the rally rookie. Nevertheless, putting in a solid ride with no crashes, Sanders 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.

‰ÛÏI really enjoyed that, the terrain was incredible with loads of rocks and some very tricky notes in the road book," Sanders said. "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‰Ûªt 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‰Ûªm good, the bike‰Ûªs good, I‰Ûªm looking forward to tomorrow.‰Û

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