Stage 1A: Jeddah to Ha’il
Dakar 2022 has begun, with today’s Prologue – otherwise known as Stage 1A – taking riders to Ha’il.
The route consisted of a 595 km liaison and a 19km special early in the stage, with the starting order being set by race number – in reverse order. That put the lead riders out last, with last year’s winner Kevin Benavides the final rider to leave.
Benavides has switched to KTM this year, taking the seat left by the departure of Daniel Sanders who moved to GasGas after last year’s rally.
With statements to be made and the starting order for the next stage to be determined, the lead riders set a cracking pace. However there’s a twist – the first 15 finishers who get to choose, in reverse order, their own starting position for Stage 1B.
Daniel Sanders (GasGas) has set the fastest time with a 1 minute gap back to second placed Pablo Quintanilla (Honda) and third fastest Ross Branch (Yamaha) a further 55 seconds behind. Toby Price (KTM) put in the 8th fastest time.
Andrew Houlihan (KTM 450 RFR) has had a conservative day, happy to be placed back in 115th.
“It’s a long way to that finish line and there’s no point in going hard this early.”
His Nomadas Adventure Coca-Cola teammates are close by, Pablo Guillen is sitting 112th and Antonio Guillen Rivera is a bit further back.
This year there’s actually a fourth rider under the Nomadas banner as well, Greek rider Vasileios Boudros. He’s tracking pretty close to the “three amigos” in times and all 4 will be reasonably close on the stage.
There was only 20km of dunes today, and unfortunately the 2nd dune caught Andrew out and he had a small spill. No damage though.
This is the first ride for Andrew on the KTM 450 RFR in a while, COVID-19 having caused the cancellation of many events on Andrew’s 2021 race calendar. But he’s settled back very quickly.
At this stage of the rally the strategy is to go one day at a time and at a steady pace. As happened last year, the field is expected to diminish as the days unfold. Consistency is the key and finishing each day is the goal.
Stage 1B is a loop from Ha’il and back to Ha’il, 514 km in total with a 333 km special. Yes, there will be sand, but the briefing also warns of “fiendish navigation puzzles”. Weather in Ha’il is forecast to be dry, partly cloudy with a maximum temperature of 16°C.