2021 Dakar, Stage 1

Photo: Dakar

Heyyyyy kids! We’ve got CMG’s usual Dakar Rally coverage again this year. Stay tuned for the next couple of weeks, as we post daily updates on all the dune-bashing and other skullduggery afoot at the Dakar! Remember, this year’s rally runs entirely in the country of Saudi Arabia, like it did last year.

Soooo, Ricky Brabec is probably hating life right now.

Brabec’s suffered some major disasters the past few years at Dakar thanks to troublesome mechanicals, but in 2020, his factory Honda held together long enough for him to claim the victory. Toby Price (KTM) is pretty much always the favourite these days, but going into this year’s race, Brabec was expected to put up a very decent defense of his title. He took the super-short prologue stage yesterday. That didn’t really mean anything, but it bode well, you’d think.

And then, he was 13 minutes down on Price before he even hit the first waypoint in today’s 277-kilometre special. Joan Barreda and Pablo Quintanilla, still with the Honda and Husqvarna factory teams respectively, also got wayyyy off-track.

That means Brabec is now down 18 minutes after only the first day, after only a 277-km special. No doubt he can make some of that time up over the rally, but it will be difficult to make up all of it without winning stages outright. When that happens, Brabec will be stuck opening the navigation for the next day, and once again losing time as riders behind him have it easier, following his tracks. It’s a very hard situation to be in.

So, who won? As you’d expect, Aussie ironman Toby Price took the stage victory, with Honda’s Kevin Benavides in second, and KTM’s Matthias Walkner in third. Benavides is proving to be Honda’s Mister Reliable, taking over the steady role that Paulo Goncalves held before his departure.

Riders to watch

One of the best parts of Dakar is watching the up-and-comers and rookies turning into veterans. This year, the guy to watch is Daniel Sanders, the fast-and-furious rookie from Australia. He’s on the KTM factory team, despite his inexperience at Dakar, because he’s shown tremendous talent at national and international enduro events. Will he be the next Toby Price? Word on the street is that Price wants to switch over to cars in the future, so KTM could be hedging their bets quite nicely here, with Sanders taking over if/when Price moves on.

Another rider to potentially watch: Oriol Mena managed a top-10 finish aboard a Rieju. The Spanish manufacturer isn’t typically a force at Dakar, but after buying the rights to former GasGas designs, perhaps we’ll see that change. Sherco’s in trouble right now, having lost its partnership with TVS, so maybe Rieju will take over that role as the quirky underdog manufacturer? Lorenzo Santolino did well on the Sherco today, though, so they’re still in it at this point.

Also note that Skyler Howes is back this year, riding a non-factory KTM. Howes has improved his rally game significantly, and probably deserved a ride with a manufacturer this year. That didn’t happen, so he’s with Bas Dakar, the team where Ross Branch did so well last year. Branch, meanwhile, is on Yamaha’s factory team. It’s all a bit incestuous, but it’s going to be fun to see where both those guys end up this year, as they’ve got the talent for great things.

Dakar, Stage 1 rankings

  1. Toby Price, KTM, 03H 17′ 49”
  2. Kevin Benavides, Honda, 03H 18′ 24” (+ 00H 00′ 35”)
  3. Matthias Walkner, KTM, 03H 18′ 24′ (+ 00H 00′ 35”)
  4. Sam Sunderland, KTM, 03H 19′ 52” (+ 00H 02′ 03”)
  5. Lorenzo Santolino, Sherco, 03H 22′ 14” (+ 00H 04′ 25”)
  6. Xavier de Soultrait, HT Rally Raid Husqvarna, 03H 22′ 23” (+ 00H 04′ 34”)
  7. Franco Caimi, Yamaha, 03H 22′ 36” (+ 00H 04′ 47”)
  8. Skyler Howes, Bas Dakar, 03H 23′ 20” (+ 00H 05′ 31”)
  9. Luciano Benavides, Husqvarna, 03H 25′ 28” (+ 00H 07′ 39”) (00H 01′ 00” penalty)
  10. Oriol Mena, Rieju, 03H 26′ 05” (+ 00H 08′ 16”)


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