The opening stage of the Dakar kicks off from Jeddah to Bisha, Jeddah is a 7th century port of the Mecca province, now the second busiest seaport of the Middle East and home to 3.5 million people.

Home to The Jeddah Tower which is set to be the world’s tallest structure at 3,281ft high costing $1.23 billion dollars, when complete the structure will stand 591ft taller than the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates As the principal gateway to Mecca, the holiest city in Islam is located 65km east while Medina, the second holiest city is located 360km north making it one of the major religious centres in Saudi Arabia.

After finding their bearings in the prologue, the participants are set to tackle the 277km special stage and further 346km road course pushing their navigation skills and offering up breath-taking views of the Aseer province before arriving in Bisha. With the stage held entirely on tracks, the rugged landscape will be both rocky and sandy, the biggest challenge will be the multiple valleys and hazards posed by numerous intersections, offering an exceedingly difficult challenge for those not used to competing in the Dakar, while those with more experienced will have to be on the lookout for the stony sections to avoid flat tyres or worse.

Dakar 2021, Stage 1 Jeddah > Bisha,  Image Supplied by ASO, 

QUADS

Alexandre Giroud picked up from the Prologue taking the opening stage win but it wasn’t all plain sailing by the Frenchman, Despite getting the Quad’s off to a flying start and opening up a 30 second lead ahead of Manuel Andujar, Giroud would drop back to start with, while Andujar’s steady progress would see him maintain a solid top five throughout stage 1.

Manuel Andujar has been impressive since his debut in the Dakar in 2019, finishing 5th and 4th in the past two years, as a result of the pandemic Andujar had to carry out an intense training program with the assistance of the MEC Team in Argentina but was then surprised by securing sponsorship from Atletico Boca Juniors who helped him secure the funds to run in the Dakar this year.

Manuel Andujar, 7240 Team: “I feel like in the Dakar 2020 I missed the podium for very little. In the second stage I broke a chain and lost an hour and a half. Paco Gomez assisted me and gave me his spare parts and I was able to continue. At another stage I broke the engine and even though I set a good rhythm, I couldn’t get much more back.”

“This 2020 there were no chances to compete, but I’m training with a personal trainer on cross tracks, to maintain agility and reaction. I also completed a training in northern Argentina and on the end of the year I completed the unloading stage, which is quieter. I live in a fifth and my passion is animals. I have a donkey, six dogs, several labradors and a male doge canary dam called Dakar. Another of my fans is football: I’ve been on the court since I was two years old and Club Boca Juniors sponsors my participation.”  

Pace issues for Giroud, allowed Giovanni Enrico to take the lead by nearly 2 minutes, Enrico looked in control with only Nicolas Cavigliasso pushing to match him having climbed up from third, it would take until the fifth way point for the Argentinian to take the lead from Enrico. While others hit problems, Giroud kept a calm head to find the pace needed to snatch the stage victory in the final moments of the day, The Frenchman passed Giovanni Enrico to beat his rival by 2minutes 52 second’s.

Alexandre Giroud, Yamaha Team Giroud: “The quad race was rather war-like today… It was a great stage! We got down to business. It was hard at the beginning because I was opening the road, so I got caught. You can see the dust trail of a quad from miles away. We then played cat and mouse for a bit. I was first across the line, but someone could end up posting a faster time.”

Alexandre Giroud, Yamaha Team Giroud, Quad, Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Florent Gooden

MOTO

Ricky Barbec got the Dakar rally officially underway at 08:42am, as the first starter of the day, the defending champion will be the first to experience the stage followed by Joan Barreda, Daniel Sanders, Jose Ignacio Cornejo and Sam Sunderland.

Following the Prologue and to ensure an even spread of competitors across the first stage, the time difference between each competitor has been multiplied by four, for Sam Sunderland this will mean he starts 00:03.36 behind Ricky Barbec.

After just 37km Ricky Barbec was struggling with the roadbook, dropping behind Andrew Short who had made the switch from Husqvarna to Yamaha. Through the opening way point Barbec trailed Short by 12 minutes with Joan Barreda was also losing time.

Ricky Brabec, Monster Energy Gonda Team 2021: “The roadbook never made complete sense. We did a good prologue and, after a good prologue, a stage like this is almost impossible to do. It’s a difficult day. The double-danger beep is kinda scary because you hear the beeping going off and you hit the brakes really hard because you don’t know if it’s a speed zone or not… It just takes a little getting used to. We went into today knowing that we would lose time, but this is only day one and there’s eleven days left. Today was a short day in my opinion.”

At the first way point, Franco Camimi posted the fastest time on the Yamaha WR 450F ahead of Lorenzo Santolino and Matthias Walker. The Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team will be happy with the start of the Dakar with Adrien Van Beveren, Andrew Short and Jamie McCanney making up the leading group early on. 

The first independent of the Dakar is Romanian Emanuel Gyenes, the endure specialist first raced the Dakar’s final appearance in Africa back in 2007, since then he has gone on to be a multiple marathon class winner and finally achieved his goal of winning the Original by Motul class for riders with no assistance.

Emanuel Gyenes, Autonet Motorcycle Team: “I’m so happy to be present on the 2021 Dakar. I really thought I would miss this edition due to the injury I suffered after a crash. But things got better with time and day after day I got more optimistic. The real test to see if I was ready was the Red Bull Romaniacs race back in October. Not only did I manage to finish the race without any major incidents, I also won the Iron class. That experience was crucial in me going to the Dakar.”

Toby Price started the day in 9th place setting off after the leading group, after way point 3 it was clear the Australian was setting a blistering pace, taking the lead off Xavier De Soultrait at the 135km mark off pulling clear at the top of the provisional classifications by 38 seconds with Kevin Benavides now in third.

For Ricky Barbec further troubles with the GPS put him 18 minutes behind Price, Joan Barreda was also struggling with the stage roadbook, the continued issues put the Honda pairing out of contention for the stage win. Finishing nearly 19 minutes behind the stage winner Barbec had been dealt a massive blow as the reigning champion, with such an early deficit to make up the 2020 winner will now be forced to go all out on the second stage to make up time.

Xavier Flick, Jhon Trejos and Willy Jobard have all chosen to retire from the Dakar, Flick suffering a injury to his leg that he initially tried to ride on with but was forced to abandon, Trejos also withdrawing with an injury sustaining a sprained wrist. Similarly, Willy Jobard who was riding a hydrogen powered hybrid was forced out of the rally having fallen and hurting his left hip after 93km.

The biggest incident of the first stage came from Erick Blandin, who was thrown from his bike at the 204km point, landing heavily on his head needing medical attention. It is a great shame for him on his Dakar debut but a serious reminder of just how unforgiving this rally can be.

Experience proved to be the key for Red Bull KTM Factory Team, Toby Price avoiding the problems around him to take the first stage by 31 seconds, teammates Matthias Walkner coming in 3rd and Sam Sunderland an impressive 4th. For Monster Energy Honda Team 2021 they will need to re group and put the GPS issues behind them, with Kevin Benavides coming home 2nd the only works Honda in the top 10.

Toby Price, Red Bull KMT Factory Team: “It’s just the first stage, so today [was] quite difficult with the navigation. I got lost a little bit about 7 kilometres from the finish. I took a little bit of time just trying to get back on track here. It’s been a good, clean day for us. I think you’re gonna see a lot of chopping and changing in the standings in this race. You just gotta stay calm and let it cruise along and make it work.”

Toby Price, Red Bull KTM Factory Team, Moto, Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Frederic Le Floc’h

CAR

For Nasser Al-Attiyah and Brian Baragwanath who both set identical times in the Prologue they will both take the start together, while 36 seconds further back will be defending Dakar champion Carlos Sainz looking to retain his title.

Stephane Peterhansel was the first of the front running cars to make his mark, setting a blistering early pace to dominate the first part of the special stage, pushing passed Vaidotas Zala by one second. The two men were locked in a close fight for most of the stage, needing a resounding display from Carlos Sainz or Sebastian Loeb to upset the order.

For Toyota Gazzo Racing it was a day to forget, a series of puncture’s dropped Nasser Al-Attiyah to 10th having started the day first, a similar issue would drop Sebastian Loeb down the order as finishing stage 1 in 17th, despite the setbacks both drivers remain within 22 minutes of the overall lead.   

Nasser Al-Attiyah, Toyota Gazzon Racing: “We decided to win the prologue, and we expected to lose time opening the road today. Tomorrow’s stage is what really matters. I’m really happy with how it went because we made no mistakes…”

After suffering a second puncture for the week Carlos Sainz was looking out of contention, but an aggressive drive under pressure and needing to deliver a top performance, not only secured Sainz the special stage win but demoted his team mate to second by 25 second, adding yet another twist to the opening overall first stage. Despite the setback’s Carlos Sainz delivered his 37th Dakar stage win narrowly beating Stephane Peterhansel who came in 25 seconds of the 2020 champion, unfortunately the damage occurred in the bush and rocky special stage may have left unseen damage to the car.

Stephane Peterhansel, X-Rain Mini JCW Team: “We spent lots of time in the midst of the vegetation, with bushes, tight corners… We knew the bodywork would be in pretty poor shape by this evening, but when you want to be fast, you can’t drive too conservatively. Starting late benefitted us a lot, but things will be different tomorrow if we have to open the road. This wasn’t our strategy at all because we knew stage 2 will feature even more navigation.”

The big surprise was from Martin Prokop brining his Benzina Orlen Team Ford Raptor home in 3rd, showing that he can compete at the front with the main contenders.

Martin Prokop, Benzina Orlen Team: “Today was hard, both because of the navigation and because of the stones. There were loads of them. But the car is performing well and I think we did rather well. I don’t know if the result is going to change… but it ain’t half bad.”

Sadly out of 64 starters only 56 arrived at the finish, for Herve Toscano his bad luck in the Dakar continued when his Renault Sadev Megan caught fire, thanks to the quick thinking by Co Driver Pascal Gambillon the fire was put out, however the car required Sylvain Besnard to help tow the Renault back to the next check point, but the damage may have already brought their Dakar to an end.

Carlos Sainz, X-Raid Mini JCW Team, Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Charly Lopez

LIGHTWEIGHT VEHICLE

A fortnight ago, Cristina Gutiérrez had given up all hope of starting her third Dakar. However, just two weeks after Red Bull Off Road Team USA called her up and put her behind the wheel of an OT3 light prototype, today she took the opening stage in the lightweight vehicle category. Most importantly, by beating former champion Reinaldo Varela, who could only manage 5th, as a bonus Gutierrez become the first female stage winner since German Jutta Kleinschmidt took her last triumph in 2005.

Her overall performance was so good that she held off the young charges off Josef Machacek and Seth Quintero by 18 minutes, with a truly flawless performance that left the competition in her dust.  

Cristina Gutierrez, Red Bull Off Road Team USA: “We need to wait until the final results, but we’re in the lead! It was a gruelling stage, but the navigation went smoothly thanks to François. It was even great, perfect. I’m delighted to do so well from stage 1. This wasn’t my objective, I just wanted to maintain a consistent pace at a high yet…”

Kris Meeks got his first taste of a real Dakar stage, the former WRC winner found the early going relatively easy and for the large part was scorching clear of the chasing pack in the Lightweight Vehicles, his PH Sport T3 was surprisingly nimble over the rough terrain coming in 10th at way point 5.   

Francisco Lopez appeared to be holding off the likes of Austin Jones, Reinaldo Varela and Sergey Karyakin in the SSV with just 47km to go, a rare mistake by the 2019 winner during the final section of the stage, dropped him down to 3rd allowing Varela claimed the first stage victory of 2021, followed home by Jones 28 seconds behind in second, putting the top three all within one minute of each other.

Cristina Gutierrez, Francois Cazalet, Red Bull Off-Road Team USA, Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Florent Gooden

TRUCK

Siarhei Viazovich kicked off the first stage of the Dakar having won the Prologue, but it would turn out to be a nightmare stage for the whole truck class.

Anton Shibalov appeared to be following the now status quo for Dakar, Kamaz Master have dominated the rally in recent years, and it looked like the same was taking place, having pulled clear and now leaving the competition trailing. It all seemed to be all too easy on the opening stage and following taking both the opening way points the Kamaz Master was now over a minute clear from Martin Macik and Aliaksei Vishneuski.

In contrast 2020 champion Andrey Karginov was having a nightmare issues with the normally reliable Kamaz would cost him over an hour on the side fixing repairs, by the time the champion had repaired the truck he crawled over the finish 1 hour 32 minutes behind effectively ending his chances of a back-to-back Dakar before it had even started.

Ayrat Mardeev looked to be heading the Kamaz challenge but he too suffered problems just a few stages after Karginov had fallen to the wayside, that left Dimitry Sotnikov to fly the Russian flag and bring home the first stage win for Kamaz Master, but even he had to concede that the opening run out was tougher than first thought.

Dimitry Sotnikov, Kamaz-Masters: “It was a hard day for everybody. All day long in the dust. It was a nightmare because we drove among the cars and the bikes. There were also lots of trees and rocks…”

While the Kamaz Masters looked to be hitting trouble that was not the case for the consistent pace and careful planning of Ales Loprais, the Instaforex Loprais Praga surprised everyone by coming in just seven minutes behind Sotnikov in 2nd, splitting the leading Kamaz pairing in the process and dropping Anton Shibalov to 3rd.

Ales Loprais, Instaforex Loprais Praga: “It was quite hard for an opening stage. There were loads of rocks and dust. It was hard to make our way among the buggies and overtake them, but in the end we finished in a good position.”

Dmitry Sotnikov, Ruslan Akhmadeev, Ilgiz Akhmetzianov, Kamaz – Master, Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Charly Lopez

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