Held for the first time in the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the 2020 Dakar Rally kicked off its first stage, won by 2019 Dakar Rally winner Toby Price, starting with a 195-kilometre liaison section, followed by a 19-kilometre neutralisation section after which competitors faced a 213-kilometre timed special stage. Running from Jeddah to Al Wajh along the Red Sea coast, riders then had to complete a 237-kilometre link section before ending the day at the bivouac.

Starting off 23rd in the flag-off list, Price, who hails from Australia, did not spare the horses on his KTM 450 Rally, pushing hard and clocking second fastest time by the first waypoint. A mechanical error with a seized road book saw Price experiencing difficulty navigating across the fast and soft sand dunes.

However, assistance from KTM Rally team mate Matthias Walkner gave Price the chance to head to the stage finish, with Price taking first and Walkner coming in third. Price completed the stage in a time of 3:19.33 hours with American Ricky Brabec on a Honda coming in 2:05 minutes later while Austrian Walkner took third at 2 minutes and 40 seconds behind Price.

Making up the top five finishers for the Dakar Rally first stage was Kevin Benavides of Argentina on a Honda in fourth place, 4 minutes and 31 seconds behind and Sam Sunderland of Great Britain on a KTM, 5 minutes and 15 seconds behind the leader.

“I had a really good day today up until about 140 kilometres where my road book started to play up a bit. Something had got in there and jammed the rollers and so I was left without a road book for a while,” said Price. “Luckily, I caught Matthias after he lost a little time and I was able to stay with him towards the finish. My result looks good on paper, but it turned out to be quite a tricky day,” he said.

The second stage of the 2020 Dakar Rally takes place tomorrow, leaving Al Wajh and heading north to Neom for a race distance of 26-kilometre liaison and a timed special stage of 367 kilometres. Classified as a “Super Marathon” stage, riders will only have 10 minutes to work on their bikes at the bivouac after the day’s racing.