2021 Dakar Rally Update – Stage 9

Neom, Saudi Arabia – 12/01/2021

Today was a tough day for many of the riders.

The big news of course was that fellow Australian, Toby Price, crashed badly injuring his left arm and shoulder and was airlifted to hospital for x-rays and treatment.

Two other top riders are out as well.

Ross Branch is out after the engine in his Yamaha failed. And Luciano Benavides also crashed out and was taken to hospital by helicopter.

In amongst a drama filled day, the steady progress of the Coca-Cola Nomadas Adventure continued.

Andrew Houlihan and Pablo Guillen launched into the special picking up over 20 places each by the first waypoint.

At one stage, Andrew was up to 38th after starting in 60th today.

Pablo maintained most of his gains and finished 43rd today. That is enough to move him up to 51st place.

Andrew Houlihan, who revealed yesterday that he has been racing with a broken scaphoid, lost some of his advantage but still finished well up on his starting position and is now 53rd overall.

He took it very slowly to nurse his injured wrist as best he could and make sure he got through today safely.

The rocks made it really hard going though, and he says it’s hard to hold on to the bike with his wrist in the state that it’s in.

Both riders said the stage was full of rocks and the dust was incredible!

They say the quads are the worst to deal with, they spit out heaps of dust and are very difficult to pass.

The navigation caught a lot of riders out today. At one stage 4 riders were way off track and headed for the Red Sea!

Andrew handled the challenging navigation fairly well, only getting lost once.

“Pablo and I got lost once, but so did many of the other riders and I think they got lost much worse than we did.”

He also had another close encounter with a truck. Cars and trucks are required to sound a warning signal  as they get close to passing other competitors, but many riders have complained that they are failing to do so.

“I was on a narrow track and this truck came through at about 100km/h”, he said, “and it didn’t give the warning signal”.

“I had nowhere to go, and the next thing this monster rounds me up only narrowly missing me!”

Andrew’s broken scaphoid is slowing him, but his tenacity and determination is pushing him through.

“I stopped a lot today to rest up today.”

“At the 2nd fuel stop the officials must have seen I had wrist issues. They quizzed me about it then wouldn’t let me leave for a while until they had given me water, some treatment and then they were happy for me to continue.”

“And then about 20 minutes down the track an offical car stopped me, they also gave me some water and asked again about my wrist!”

“So it’ll be an early night for me tonight, rest up and let’s see what the Dakar can throw up in Stage 10.”

With Price’s retirement from the rally Nacho Cornejo has emerged as the clear leader and the rider in the strongest position to take the overall win.

He has a commanding lead of 11 minutes 24 seconds over Kevin Benavides.

Daniel Sanders is now the best placed Australian in 6th overall, 9 minutes and 23 seconds behind 5th placed Joan Barreda and 38 minutes off the lead. Don’t rule him out yet, it would take a miracle for him to get a win but he’s looking good for a top 5 finish.

Australian Michael Burgess has moved into the top 30! He’s been consistent, staying out of trouble each day and quietly picking up places on every stage.

Competitors now leave Neom and head for AlUla through some breathtaking scenery.

Stage 10 has 241km of liaison and 342km of special.