Daniel Sanders has taken his first stage win at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and now lies second overall in the provisional standings – less than one minute behind leader Matthias Walkner.
Walkner finished second on stage three to maintain his position at the top of the overall rankings while Andrew Short had his best stage finishing third fastest.
Increasing his experience and continuing to learn the terrain of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, Sanders has once again shown he’s right up there with the very best. Setting off third into the 293km special, the Australian immediately set about chasing down his two closest rivals ahead of him and was able to catch up and take the stage lead by the second checkpoint.
With the three rally leaders grouped up and riding together, it was difficult to make up any more time, but Daniel was still able to focus on his navigation and ultimately finish the stage just under three minutes ahead of the second-placed rider. His advantage at the end of the day means that Sanders moves up to second overall in the event standings and lies just 57 seconds behind the provisional rally leader Walkner.
“Yeah, happy with that. It was a good stage today, I rode really well this morning and caught up to the guys ahead quicker than I thought I would,” Sanders said. “From there we just rode in a pack. It wasn’t too tricky after the refuelling, we took it in turns to lead and I just made sure I didn’t make any big mistakes or crash. The day went well – I felt comfortable on the bike today and was able to relax a little, which means I could concentrate more on the roadbook, too. It all came together really well. It was a long day in the dunes and certainly tiring, but I’m still feeling good and looking forward to opening tomorrow. For sure, it’s not going to be easy, but it’s really good experience for me, so hopefully, I’ll do a good job and not lose too much time to the others.”
With navigation proving to be less challenging than on previous days, Matthias Walkner chose to keep to a strong but steady pace through the Liwa Desert, not wanting to make any mistakes. Together with the current top racers in the event’s overall standings, Matthias ultimately ended up riding the latter half of the stage as part of a group, with each taking it in turns to lead.
Finishing the stage as second fastest, Walkner successfully defended his advantage in the provisional rankings. Although with a lead of just under one minute, he must still attack the final two stages of the event to ensure he stays on top of the leaderboard.
“I had another solid day today,” Walkner said. “Finishing second again means I don’t have the best starting position for tomorrow, with not so many lines in the sand ahead of me. There have been the usual changes in the standings with different people leading out, and others have had some issues. Sanders will open tomorrow, and Adrien is looking strong. There are two days left and I’m still leading the overall, so I’ll continue to do my best and take it day-by-day.”
As the eighth rider to enter stage three, Andrew Short was able to focus on following the lines left in the sand by the riders ahead of him to finish third fastest. With his bike running perfectly and with his confidence returning, the 38-year-old is taking all the positives from the serious test that the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is clearly offering. For tomorrow, Andrew will need to rely on his navigational skills as he will open the stage together with the event’s leading competitors.
“The stage was pretty similar to yesterday – plenty of open terrain and sand dunes,” Short said, “I felt a bit better today and I’m slowly getting back to where I should be. My bike is running great and the more time I can spend on it the better ahead of the Dakar. That’s the main goal and I feel like I’m heading in the right direction with my riding to be ready for that race.”
Tomorrow’s penultimate stage of the rally takes riders one step closer to the event’s finish line in Al Fathiyeh on Thursday. Scheduled to cover 403.76 kilometres with 251.98 of those raced against the clock, it looks set to be another gruelling test for all riders and their machinery.
Provisional Results – Stage 3 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 2021
1 Daniel Sanders (AUS), GASGAS, 3:59:09
2 Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 4:01:53 +2:44
3 Andrew Short (USA), Yamaha, 4:02:15 +3:06
4 Joaquim Rodrigues (POR), Hero, 4:04:26 +5:17
5 Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 4:04:54 +5:45
6 Sebastian Buhler (Hero) 4:07:28 + 0:08:19
Provisional Standings – Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 2021 after 3 of 5 stages
1 Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 11:54:24
2 Daniel Sanders (AUS), GASGAS, 11:55:22 +57 seconds
3 Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 12:00:04 +5:39
4 Andrew Short (USA), Yamaha, 12:18:43 +24:19
5 Joaquim Rodrigues (POR), Hero, 12:20:53 +26:28
6 Sebastian Buhler (Hero) 12:33:44 + 0:39:20