3/2/2023 5:30am, Saudi Arabia
Today is the official start!!
It’s Prologue day – a short special stage that determines the starting positions for tomorrow’s Stage 1. It’s kind of the same as the Top 10 shootout at Bathurst.
Mishal from the Saudi Dirt Bike Centre picked me up at 8am this morning and we made our way to the bivouac. Sarah, our Indian team mate and a competitor in the Women’s World Cup, also arrived this morning. She was very nervous as she has only done a few rally races before and nothing of this type or level.
The official opening and presentation was scheduled for 12.30pm on the other side of Ha’il, in the same place where we had our 2022 Dakar opening.
Mishal, Sarah and I geared up early and went for a short ride just to get comfortable with the bikes.
The ride was cut short with Mishal having issues with his front brakes locking up. By the time we made it back to the bivouac the roadbooks were being handed out for Prolouge and it was time to ride across to the other side of Ha’il for the official opening.
It was the same set up as Dakar – we sat around in the hot sun for a couple of hours waiting for 10 seconds of fame on the Arabian news!
I did have a chance to meet and talk with more of the racers today, and it has become apparent that I’m one of a only a handful of new guys at the Baja World Cup.
Hopefully I have picked a few tips from these guys because I will need a completely different mindset for these races. Although the dunes, terrain and the navigation are all similar, the pace is on from the start with no backing off.
It was also great to know that I am the oldest competitor here in bikes, which I was reminded of quite a few times!! The average age of the Baja bike riders is a bit lower than that of the Dakar guys.
Mishal has my Husqvarna set up perfectly and it even feels a bit more powerful than my KTM 450 Rally bike, so that box is ticked.
There was only a 5km liaison from the opening to the start of the Prologue. We started in the reverse order of our numbers which meant the faster guys who have seeding from last year’s World Cup started at the back and had tracks to follow.
My strategy was simply to have fun, stay safe and validate every way point. I took off very cautiously and rode well, although I did make a couple of very minor mistakes and some off camber gravel corners cost me some valuable time.
When I came across the finish I was happy to have the Prologue over and I didn’t take any notice of my time or result. I was just glad to get the nerves out of my system!
But I had qualified 6th overall and 1st in the Vets class!
The top 10 riders in Prologue get to choose their starting position, so if you finish 1st in Prologue you can choose what position you want to start on Stage 1, and also determine where the rest of the top 10 start.
You don’t want to be one of the first bikes starting the stage as you have no tracks to follow – you are essentially creating the route for the rest of the field. This is bad as it means you are going a lot slower so you don’t make any navigational mistakes, and you have no reference points, tracks or other riders in front of you. If you follow the Dakar Rally you will know exactly what I mean.
So tomorrow will be a hard day as I will be starting up the front of the field, something I have never done at this level.
As someone who rarely gets nervous, I now have that feeling after todays good result!