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Ross Branch Heads The Leaderboard After Dakar 2024 Stage 1

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Photo of Ross Branch at the 2024 Dakar Rally
Ross Branch has gotten off to the perfect start with the win on stage one of the 2024 Dakar Rally.

Ross Branch has led home the 136 competitors in the bike category in the first of twelve stages of the 2024 Dakar Rally.

Bagging his third Stage victory for Hero MotoSports so far at the Dakar, Ross Branch has established beyond doubt his intentions to finish this year on the final podium. After a spectacular performance in the opening stage, the “Kalahari Ferrari” now leads the Dakar Rally with a healthy 12-minute margin ahead of the second position holder, Ricky Brabec and third-placed Mason Klein.

Several riders were brought down by stones, including the victor of the prologue, Tosha Schareina who suffered a broken wrist at KM 214. Joaquim Rodrigues also encountered an unfortunate crash and withdrew with a damaged thumb.

Photo of Ricky Brabec at the 2024 Dakar Rally
Ricky Brabec was second fastest and is second overall.

After a steady start in the Prologue stage, the competitors set out on their first full Stage at the 46th Dakar edition as early as 6 am today – a 532 km eastward journey from AlUla to Al Henakiyah. The Stage was particularly demanding – setting a rightful tone for “the most difficult Dakar ever in Saudi” – and saw several top riders crash and exit from the race. Rocks and canyons set the preface for the stage, as in the prologue stage, followed by a maze of alternating wadis, off-piste, and lots of changes in direction. While the rough winding tracks and volcanic lava settlements made way for amazing sceneries, the competitors had to risk everything until the last kilometer to finish.

“It was a really challenging first stage at the Dakar,” Branch reflected. “This was probably one of the longest stages I’ve ever experienced at Dakar. I had a strong start, but things got tricky after I found Tosha crashing shortly after refuelling, and I then remained by his side until medical assistance arrived. Finding a good rhythm afterwards proved challenging, but my primary focus shifted to safely returning to the bivouac. Looking forward to a fresh start tomorrow opening the stage, let’s see how it goes. “

Ricky Brabec was on a mission spending most of the stage amongst the front runners as he looked to move up the overall ranking, the 2020 winner using his experience to take a well deserved second place at the end of the day.

“You couldn’t even count the amount of rocks out there and when you’re trying to dodge them and read your notes it’s tough,” the American said. “You don’t want to crash on the rocks, you don’t want to miss a note so it’s finding that balance. Definitely, the navigation was hard today and so was the riding. The plan for tomorrow is just to make it to the next bivouac without making any big mistakes. “

Photo of Mason Klein at the 2024 Dakar Rally
Mason Klein was impressive on the Chinese made Kove bike coming home third.

Third placed Mason Klein was not even sure that he would be able to start his third Dakar on his brand-new second-generation Kove, which got stuck in customs in Dubai, but his Chinese mount finally arrived a few hours before the gong rang on the technical scrutineering.

The American finished in the top 10 in the prologue and picked his starting order for stage 1. The 22-year-old privateer chose to start first, a position typically avoided by Rally GP riders that would have usually gone to Skyler Howes, the worst performer in the opening romp.

“The idea of opening the first stage at the Dakar is really cool so, in the end, no regrets because now I can say I’ve done it.” Klein again showed that he is a box full of surprises, not just because he spent the 400 km long hard slog alone at the front, picking up 6′21″ in bonuses and third place at the finish, but also because he did it on a motorbike that he had barely even touched before: “This is my third time on the bike now and I couldn’t be happier,” Klein said.

Photo of Jose Ignacio Cornejo at the 2024 Dakar Rally
Jose Ignacio Cornejo was the second Honda rider in the top five with a strong placed fourth.

It was a positive day for fourth placed Jose Ignacio Cornejo, despite it not being his favoured terrain he would keep up a relentless pace to be at the sharp end all stage.

“I felt very good during stage one that I think we haven’t seen before on the Dakar. There were many kilometres of stones on the route and if you went off the track there were even more of them. Even though it doesn’t necessarily suit my riding style I felt quite confident riding most of the stage with Ricky,” Cornejo said.

Photo of Lorenzo Santolino at the 2024 Dakar Rally
Lorenzo Santolino got Sherco off to a solid start with a top-five finish on stage one.

Lorenzo Santolino found the right rhythm from the start and rode with the race leaders for several kilometers, he finished fifth in the stage, ending with the same place in the general classification.

“For me the race went well, I had good sensations, a good feeling from the start, I caught up with Sam Sunderland at kilometer 9O and I rode in front, all day alone. I rode at my own pace and did well with the navigation. I didn’t make any mistakes, I didn’t fall, it was a very good first day,” Santolino said.

Despite being out of action due to injury for quite some time before this year’s Dakar, Daniel Sanders arrived with confidence and clearly hadn’t lost any of his raw speed. After finishing as a close runner-up on yesterday’s prologue, the Aussie carried that momentum into the first proper stage of the Dakar to post the ninth-fastest time. With the first timed special now done and dusted, Sanders lies ninth overall and less than five minutes adrift of the early rally leader.

“We were rock ‘n’ rolling out there today!” Sanders enthused. “I wish I set the bike up a little differently for today as for the first stage, it was pretty gnarly. It kinda feels like we’ve done five days already! The priority for today was to not crash and I didn’t, so I was happy to reach the finish with no problems. With the team we’ll make a few bike set-up changes for tomorrow and go again.”

Photo of Daniel Sanders at the 2024 Dakar Rally
Daniel Sanders was the first Aussie home in seventh place. Photo: Rally Zone

Taking part in his 10th Dakar Rally, Toby Price knows that the race is never won on the first day. A solid start to the special saw the Aussie post times inside the top 10 through to the 225-kilometer mark. A small technical issue at 70 kilometers before the refueling stop unfortunately cost the 36-year-old around seven minutes to his rivals, dropping Price down the timesheets. With the problem rectified, Toby refocused and was able to claw back some time over the latter half of the special, ultimately completing the day in 16th place.

“They promised rocks today and it was definitely rocky – it was all quite tricky to get through while staying focused on the roadbook,” Price explained. “I did have a small issue before the refueling that cost me some minutes, but thankfully I was able to fix that and carry on afterwards. I’ve lost a little bit of time on the early leaders, but I’m here safe at the finish and we have a lot of kilometers to race ahead of us. Today’s stage has already shown that the Dakar is tough and can throw up some surprises, so my plan, as always, is to stay consistent and do my best day by day.”

Riders will be resting up at Al Henakiyah, recharging before the third day of rallying where there’ll be even more mileage on the cards for stage two. Riders will rack up a total of 655 km as they’ll be put through their paces on a 463 km special with an increased road section making up the numbers. The dune surfers will enjoy 30 km of sand mixed with long, fast stretches from Al Henakiyah to Al Duwadimi. This is only just the beginning of what the next longer stages will bring as it’ll be a proper test of man and machine in the Saudi Arabian heat.

Photo of Toby Price at the 2024 Dakar Rally
Toby Price lost a few minutes with an unidentified issue but finished 16th and is in a good place. Photo: Rally Zone

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