After setting a blistering time and winning yesterday’s Prologue, Daniel Sanders has maintained his impressive speed to secure victory on today’s opening stage of the 2022 Dakar Rally.
Honda’s Pablo Quintanilla was second on stage with Matthias Walkner rounding out the top three while Australia’s other great hop Toby Price struck trouble finishing 22nd. Another heavy hitter to have a shocking start to the 2022 Dakar was Ricky Brabec who finished 23rd after getting lost with so many others.
Yesterday’s prologue stage was a mere curtain-raiser for the riders, but today the Dakar challenge turned serious. Navigation was the main protagonist of the day at several key points along the sandy tracks of the 333-kilometre special stage, in particular, some 50 kilometres from the end of the special were several riders lost their way. However, with the Dakar barely underway, anything can still potentially happen.
Opting to enter the stage as the 15th rider and chase down the riders ahead, Daniel Sanders game plan worked perfectly winning the special by over three minutes to maintain his place at the top of the overall provisional classification.
“So far things are shaping up really good,” the Australian enthused. “After winning the Prologue yesterday I got to choose my starting position and opted to start in 15th and then focus on chasing after the guys upfront. There was some tricky navigation near the end of the special but I kept cool, avoided any huge errors and then l lead the stage to the end. This was great for me as it made sure I focused on my roadbook and as I’ll lead out tomorrow – it was good to get a little experience of riding alone upfront. I’m excited for tomorrow and looking forward to the challenge ahead.”
Pablo Quintanilla produced a fine performance, arriving at the Ha’il bivouac satisfied with both his riding prowess and navigation. The rider set a fine pace to hold on to his position in the general standings securing another runner-up spot on the stage.
“It was a tough, complicated day,” Quintanilla said. “Last night it rained and washed out some tracks, the route was barely visible. I tried to push throughout the whole stage, even at the note at kilometre 268, where there was a hidden waypoint that was very difficult to find. I took it easy, navigated well and in the end it turned out to be a good day. It was very physically demanding, with a lot of changes of direction, on tracks that were not very visible, very fast and stone-filled… but I feel good, with good pace. I think it was a great day.”
As the 11th rider to start today’s special stage following his fifth-place finish in the event’s opening prologue, Matthias Walkner pushed hard from the start and, throughout the opening six waypoints, made up good time on the riders ahead of him. Running into a navigational issue mid-way between waypoints six and seven, Walkner was able to quickly find his way and end the stage in a strong third place.
“It was a good day but super tricky with the navigation today,” Walkner said. “The rain certainly made the sand harder and things a little more challenging, but a few of us worked together, riding in a fast, strong group at the end of the stage to make sure that we arrived at the finish in a good way. In the morning the rain made the sand firmer and really nice to ride on, but at the end of the day it was much more challenging and harder to ride on. Although today was a hard day, it’s only the first day of the rally. We saw it last year, you can lose or win 30 minutes or so, but at this early stage in the race that doesn’t mean too much.”
Adrien Van Beveren made a highly positive start completing the special as the fourth fastest rider. As the 10th rider to enter the stage, the Frenchman used his impressive pace and roadbook skills to advance up the timesheets, moving to the front and ultimately leading the riders across the day’s finish line.
In stark contrast to his winning ride on stage one of last year’s Dakar Rally, Toby Price, unfortunately, endured a hugely frustrating opening stage. As one of the many riders to run into the same navigational issue, the Australian would eventually complete the special 47 minutes down on countryman and stage winner Daniel Sanders.
“The stage was a bit of a rough one for me today,” Price lamented. “There was one note that just didn’t seem to add up properly, didn’t quite make sense to me, so I ended up getting lost for 45, maybe 50, minutes. So, not a good way to start the rally. But it’s early days and let’s see what happens. No crashes, so that’s good, but a costly navigation mistake. I’ll keep my head down and keep at it and see what tomorrow brings.”
The second stage of the Dakar, set to take place tomorrow, will be dominated by dunes. There will be several stretches of dunes occupying about a quarter of the 338-kilometre special stage. With a total of 568 kilometres, this was intended to be the only marathon stage of the 2022 Dakar, finishing in Al Artawiyah, but due to a heavy downpour yesterday which flooded the originally planned site, the bivouac has been moved to Al Qaisumah. As a result, there is no scheduled marathon stage and RallyGP riders will be able to receive external mechanical assistance like on any other race day.