Stage 1B: Ha’il to Ha’il
An early and cold start set the scene for a challenging day – out of bed at 4.30 am to a freezing cold and foggy morning. “It was still a bit wet as it rained all night”, says Andrew Houlihan.
The special stage of 333 km in the loop from Ha’il and back today threw some challenges to even the top riders. While Daniel Sanders (#4 GasGas) dominated the stage, Toby Price (#18 KTM) dropped to 22nd overall showing just how challenging it can be for even the best.
“Today was one of the hardest days I’ve ever done in the sand and dunes, there were a lot of very steep downhill dunes that were quite tricky.”
About 200 km into the special was an almost impossible pass over a small canyon, very steep with deep sand and massive boulders everywhere. There was carnage, with bikes scattered on every part of the track.
Andrew weaved his way up but about 2 metres from the top the bike flipped.
“I was able to push and throw the bike up the last rock ledge and watched it hit hard, fortunately there was no damage to the bike and only a little damage to my body”, Andrew told us later. “But from that point on I had some issues with pain and controlling the bike in the sand and dunes.”
But it was difficult navigation that was the biggest thing that threw the riders today. Many riders got lost and officials handed out plenty of time penalties, with some riders receiving up to a full hour added to their times.
Andrew was among a group of riders that spent close to an hour and a half trying to find the right track!
As a result, he has dropped a few places but still sits 98th in the Rally 2 group.
A refuelling stop today gave Toby Price (#18 KTM) a chance to drop in to see how Andrew and Nomadas Adventure Coca-Cola teammate Pablo Guillen (#35 – KTM 450 Rally) were travelling. But was he really looking for hints on that difficult navigation? Or was it a can of Coke he needed?
Daniel Sanders (#4 GasGas) lead all the way today, and has opened up a 2 minute gap over second placed Pablo Quintanilla (#7 Honda). Matthias Walkner (#52 KTM) is a further 6 minutes 24 seconds behind in 3rd overall.
Andrew leaves the bivouac on Stage 2 at 5:59 am, so another very early start.
Flooding in the Al Artawiya bivouac has caused a major change to the route for Stage 2 and the planned marathon stage.
The route now consists of a 183km liaison, 338km special and then another 270km liaison straight to Al Qaisumah which was the planned destination for Stage 3. Maximum temperatures are expected to be around 16°C but there is a strong possibility of rain!