Al Qaisumah, Saudi Arabia – 07/01/2021
Andrew’s first words on his arrival in the bivouac were “I’m f…..”.
“That was a gruelling long stage today.”
He’d been on the bike for over 13 hours, he was cold and maybe a little delirious. It took a few moments for him to gather himself together.
After a huge bowl of pasta and a Coca-Cola he came good and realised what he had achieved today.
Stage 5 was pitched as probably the hardest of the 2021 Dakar Rally.
Andrew had started today 70th, he’d been maintaining a consistent and steady pace over the first four stages and was in a good place for his rookie year.
But today was different.
Straight out of the gate he made some different decisions to many of the other riders. And there was a light shower of rain at the beginning of the special that helped as well.
So many of the lead riders got lost early, but Andrew worked a different plan.
“About 40ks in I came over a dune to see about 50 bikes and quads buzzing around in all directions lost”, he said.
“I stopped to size things up and decided none of these guys have got it right, so I’m not following them.”
His instinct told him just to head in the general direction of the cap heading, and he eventually saw two quads roaring around a corner flat out.
He thought, “If these guys are going that quick, and it was in the general direction of the cap, they might be onto it!”.
So he followed them along a gully, and this eventually lead to the correct track.
That decision helped Andrew make a massive jump up through the field early on today. By the first waypoint at the 43km mark he was 37th and only 16 minutes off the pace of the leading rider. By 74km into the special he was up to 29th.
Eventually the other riders clawed back some time, but what Andrew had done was enough to give him his best finish yet in the rally – 57th on the day and now 63rd overall.
Andrew also said the dunes today were huge, and just when you thought they were over there was more to come.
“It was relentless”, he said in the team debrief, “I think there’ll be quite a few riders that won’t get through the stage tonight”.
Later on in the stage Andrew saw his mate Michael Burgess ahead of him so he chased him down. But once Michael got a glimpse of Andrew behind him he turned up the pace across the rocks.
“I’m not taking that much risk”, Andrew thought, “so I backed off and let him go”.
Michael finished today in 39th position and is now 38th overall – a solid position given it’s also his first year in the Dakar.
Andrew’s Coca-Cola Nomadas Adventure teammate Pablo Guillen had a less than perfect day, losing a lot of time early in the special. He was down 58 minutes on the leaders at the first waypoint and eventually came in 72nd today.
But despite losing so much time, he actually picked up three places overall. Such is the craziness of this up and down event.
On a sadder note, Andrew’s Indian riding buddy Ashish Raorane (#82 KTM 450RR) who raced with the Nomadas team in the 2020 Africa ECO Race, crashed late in the stage and was taken to hospital.
He was racing in the Original by Motul category this year where competitors do their own support and servicing without the backing of a team.
Ashish was one of many riders who didn’t make it to the finish of stage five.
Of the 101 riders who started this this year’s rally, only 79 are still officially competing. Today’s stage put 15 riders out of the event.
The two other Australians in the rally, KTM factory riders Toby Price and Daniel Sanders, put in a solid performances and both improved overall.
Price started 22nd, finished 3rd and he is now back up to 3rd outright.
Sanders was one of the riders who got lost early, dropping from his starting position of 2nd to 23rd by the first waypoint.
He fought his way back up to 15th and that was enough to move him up one place in the general standings to 13th.
After doing so well in today’s tough stage, Andrew is feeling upbeat about the rest of the rally.
“It was a great day, no offs, no penalties and no bike issues”, he said with a smile on his face (after that food and Coca-Cola!!!!)