STAGE 1: 22nd
Ha’il ➡️ Ha’il
After the rain overnight at Ha'il, mist enveloped the area as the first competitors departed the bivouac in the early hours. The programme gave pride of place to sand amid mountains reaching up to 1,500 masl and famous around the globe for their rock art. After the 181km Liason, there were parts with stones, sandy tracks which made up 85% of the 333km special, including 4% of dunes.
In stark contrast to his winning ride on Stage 1 of last year’s Dakar Rally, Price unfortunately endured a hugely frustrating opening stage. As one of the many riders to run into the same navigational issue, the Australian would eventually complete the special 47 minutes down on the stage winner.
“The stage was a bit of a rough one for me today. There was one note that just didn’t seem to add up properly, didn’t quite make sense to me, so I ended up getting lost for 45, maybe 50, minutes. So, not a good way to start the rally. But it’s early days and let’s see what happens. No crashes, so that’s good, but a costly navigation mistake. I’ll keep my head down and keep at it and see what tomorrow brings.”
STAGE 2: 5th
Ha’il ➡️ Al Qaisumah
Genuinely swamped by the rain, the bivouac at Al Artawiyah was deprived of the marathon stage it was originally planned to host and organisers and competitors re-routed to the Stage 3 bivouac.
However, the sporting programme for the second stage did not suffer similar upheaval because on completion of the 338-km special, heading towards the province of Riyadh, a new 270-km link route made it possible to reach Al Qaisumah, where the caravan will stay for 2 nights.
The Aussie built up his pace throughout the day and fought his way up the order, completing the stage as fifth fastest, earning himself a strong start position for Day 3, where he will aim to cut his deficit to the leaders once again tomorrow.
“Today went a lot better than yesterday, and I was able to claw back a little time on the leaders. It’s always tough when you lose a big chunk of time early on, but it’s still very early days and there’s a lot of racing left. The bike is really good – I’m feeling really comfortable – so let’s continue tomorrow and see what happens.”
STAGE 3: 2nd
Al Qaisumah ➡️ Al Qaisumah
With heavy rain falling in and around the Al Artawiyah region, organizers were forced to shorten the timed special on Stage 3. Made up of extremely fast sand tracks and areas of dunes, the stage didn’t present too much of a challenge in terms of navigation, and as such, times at the top were close.
Price knew he would have to push right from the start to make up time on his rivals ahead. However, with times so tight, it was tough for the Australian to claw back much more than a few minutes. Maintaining good speed over the entire special, Price was able to ultimately fight his way up to 2nd, just over one-minute down on the eventual stage winner by the end of the day.
“Today has been a good day – super fast, so you can’t really make up time on anyone. We had some lines in the dunes that you could see, so I just tried to make a good clean stage and not make any big mistakes. I did have one little get-off, but other than that, nothing major. The results are close, but we’re going in the right direction, and we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”