Neom, Saudi Arabia – 11/01/2021

The marathon stage is done and the riders have been re-united with their support teams in the Neom bivouac.

And for some, like Toby Price, that’s a huge relief. Toby rode the entire 8th stage on a rear tyre held together with gaffer tape and zip ties!

For Andrew Houlihan, arriving in the Neom bivouac a bit earlier than other days – about 3 pm – was a bit of a blessing.

Apart from being physically fatigued, Andrew has revealed that he’s been riding with a broken scaphoid since a fall on day 3!

He says the pain is intense and holding the bars is difficult, but he’s pushing on and taking one day at a time.

“I’m getting through each day now by strapping it and with the help of pain killers.”

At least being back with the support team allows him to get some care from Tess, the team physio, as well as from the medical personnel.

Despite the injury and fatigue, Andrew is maintaining his consistency in each stage and has picked up another 2 places in the overall standings. He now sits 58th.

He says the navigation in Stage 8 was tricky and there were no tracks to follow.

“The dirt doesn’t leave markings and the wind blows any tracks in the sand away quickly anyway.”

He also said he made one small navigational error but realised pretty quickly and turned around.

“I followed Pablo!”, he said with a smile on his face, “but I did a u-turn and got back on track quickly”.

That navigation error and a 20 minute penalty for missing a waypoint cost Pablo some time today, and he finished the stage in 66th place. However it was still good enough to move him up two more places in the overall standings to 57th overall.

Although the briefing for the stage indicated there would be no sand dunes, there was some small sections. At least they weren’t the usual 10 to 20 km stretches.

“And the bike has run well over the last 2 days, there’s been no issues with it at all”, reported Andrew.

After the rest day the support teams had headed directly from Ha’il to the Neom bivouac, which is situated about a kilometre from the shore of the Red Sea, and settled in for 3 nights.

Neom is a 500 billion dollar planned “city of the future”, and the images from bivouac suggest that maybe the city hasn’t spread that far yet.

Alistair Nicoll, who is travelling with the Coca-Cola Nomadas team, said they’re dealing with high winds and the crews are trying to stop tents and marquees from ending up in the Red Sea!

Riders are now back in their own “beds away from home” after spending the previous night sleeping on mattresses on the floor in a large gym in Sakaka.

Pablo said it was quite cold and the toilets were a long hike away in the middle of the night so it’s good to be back in the relative comfort and familiarity of the team quarters.

José Ignacio Cornejo took his first stage win of the year yesterday and extended his lead in the rally over Toby Price to 1 minute and 6 seconds.

Ricky Brabec’s third place has helped him in his desperate attempt to get back in touch with the leaders. He moved up 2 spots to 6th overall.

Sam Sunderland has held onto third place, Kevin Benavides has jumped up to 4th and Joan Barreda is now 5th.

Daniel Sanders, who is gradually climbing his way up the leaderboard and now sits eighth in the general standings, is starting to look like having an outside chance of a podium finish.

Fellow Australian, good friend and training partner of Andrew, Michael Burgess, continues to impress in his rookie year. He’s now 35th overall.

Stage 9 is loop, about 570km in total, returning to Neom. Riders can expect to have to deal with a fair amount of rocky trails.