Ha’il, Saudi Arabia – 09/01/2021

The first six days of the Dakar Rally have been gruelling, and today’s rest day has given the teams a much needed chance to drop the pressure and wind down just a little bit.

There was still plenty to do. Mechanics strip and service the bikes, riders assess their progress so far and strategise for the final week of the rally, and everyone hopes to get an extra couple of hours of sleep.

A typical day in the Dakar might start at 4 am, often earlier. This past week we’ve seen days where the lead riders have left the bivouac as early as 4:15 am. The teams have been up for a couple of hours before that.

While the riders are racing for 10 hours or more, the teams hurriedly pack everything up into the support vehicles and drive to the next bivouac to have everything set up before the riders get there.

And then just when you want to stop and rest at night, there’s the servicing to be done on the bikes and the preparation for the next day.

It takes a big team effort to make it all run smoothly, and it’s physically and mentally demanding for everyone involved.

Alistair Nicoll, who is on the support team for Andrew Houlihan in Saudi Arabia, is one of the first awake each day and last to get to bed at night.

His company – LINKFire – is one of Andrew’s major supporters and he was fortunate to be able to get through COVID restrictions and be at the 2021 Dakar Rally.

Alistair is our eyes and ears in Saudi Arabia and the one who brings us much of the information we get to publish, but also plays an active role in the team.

He helps with the bikes, setup and pack down and anything else that needs attention. Alistair is normally driving one of the support vehicles well, often with Tess (trainer and physio) and Santiago the team’s in-house film guy – who Alistair has nicknamed “Spielberg” –  and is responsible for bringing us some of the stunning imagery we see.

And then there’s Hernan (team owner/manager/strategist/logistics) and Jakob the Swiss KTM mechanic. Between the two of them they ensure the bikes are prepped and ready to go every day for Andrew and his teammate Pablo Guillen.

Those guys never stop. Alistair reports that “Jakob and Hernan have been working on the bikes all day today. Bikes were near stripped to the frame. New clutch, chain, sprockets, tyres, mousses, suspension service and general oil and filters. Plus anything else that was not in tip top condition, including new decals.”

Andrew and Pablo had a relatively relaxing day today sorting their gear and resting their bodies. Each day is physically demanding on the body, rattling and shaking every bone and every organ.

They have a well structured plan to maintain the level of strength and endurance needed to make it through this event, and today’s rest day is an important part of that plan.

The guys also had a chance today to wander around the bivouac and talk with other competitors in including the Australian KTM factory riders Toby Price and Daniel Sanders.

And the media were keen to catch up with many of the riders on their rest day too! Watch out for an upcoming interview Andrew has done with Red Bull TV!

Tomorrow morning the brief reprieve will end, and everyone will be back to “full throttle” for the next part of the rally.

Stage 7 is the first part of the marathon stage and there will be no mechanical assistance for the riders overnight. So it’s very important to conserve the bikes so they need minimal attention at the end of the day.

Pablo and Andrew go into the second half of the rally in 60th and 61st place respectively in the overall standings.

The weather forecast is for a cool start to the day at around 9° and for rain between 4 am and 9am. Those conditions may just work in Andrew’s favour.