Stage 9 of the 2021 Dakar Rally starts and ends in the outskirts of Neom, Saudi Arabia’s 500 billion dollar “city of the future”.
If the teams were expecting to see something resembling the spectacular imagery depicted in the flashy websites telling the story of Neom’s development ….. ah no!
Instead the teams have been greeted, with – yes, you guessed it – sand, dust and high winds to whip it all into a frenzy, threatening to airlift their tents and marquees into the Red Sea.
And that means the riders will have to deal with more of the same today.
Today starts with a 109km liaison to the beginning of a 465km special. At the end of the special is probably the shortest liaison of the entire rally, a quick 6km trip back into the bivouac.
A large part of today will be played out on soil and rocky tracks, and only about 30% of the special is sand.
Like yesterday, the brief doesn’t mention dunes. So it’s probably a smart guess that there will actually be some.
Andrew Houlihan (#62 – KTM 450RFR) leaves the bivouac at 7:05:30 am for a start in the special at 9:05:30.
His Coca-Cola Nomadas Adventure teammate Pablo Guillen (#35 – KTM 450RFR) will start the special at 09:10 am today, almost 5 minutes behind him.
They will actually get to travel along the seafront in the early part of the special, but there’ll be no time to sightseeing today.
At the front of the field you can expect some intense competition from Toby Price and Nacho Cornejo who come in to this stage separated by 1 minute and 6 seconds.
Cornejo extended his lead over Price yesterday but Toby was riding on a tyre held together with zip ties. He’ll have a fresh tyre today and will be keen to take the lead back.
And Ricky Brabec is fighting hard to get back in touch with the leaders. He’s sitting just outside the top 5 and has over 17 minutes to make up.
You can follow the live timing here.