This appetiser will give participants the chance to ease into a competitive mindset. The race will take the competitors about 30 kilometres away from King Abdullah Stadium and feature a handful of sandy tracks where the temptation to just slide around the course will be hard to resist. Most importantly, the classification will establish a safe starting order for the next stage, with everyone right where they belong.
The opening special will be held entirely on tracks. The main challenge lies in stringing up one valley after another while avoiding the navigational hazards posed by the numerous intersections. Competitors will have to be on the lookout in the stony sections if they want to avoid flat tyres.
Here come the first dunes, which will appear in a section stretching for about 30 kilometres in the first third of the stage. Yellow dominates the kaleidoscope here, but the white dunes will provide a touch of contrast. A lengthy off-track section —the desert’s answer to “open space”— comes right before the final sequence of sandy tracks.
The gateway to the Empty Quarter provides the backdrop to this stage —pure, unadulterated desert. Competitors will get a hefty serving of dunes, albeit spread far and wide and in small chains. The special intersperses technical sections with faster parts. This high-stakes loop will give the fastest competitors their first opportunity to make a real difference.
If the link sector is included, this is the longest stage of the race, but the sporting part is unlikely to push the competitors to the limit. On the contrary, the focus will be on having fun at the wheel, even though the winding tracks will give participants no respite. However, it is worth keeping in mind that mistakes carry a hefty price tag even on transition stages like this one.
Patience is a virtue in rally raids, as will be seen on this long, hard stage, where competitors who fail to control their nerves are in for a bad day. Several elements will bring down the average speed, including a tough dunes sector near the middle of the special and the numerous stones that litter some tracks. Haste makes waste —or, in this case, a flat tyre. Haste makes waste —or, in this case, a flat tyre.
The road to Ha’il will be 100% smooth and sandy. The road to Ha’il will be 100% smooth and sandy. The course of this stage features dunes in all shapes and colours, testing the competitors’ ability to tackle them forwards and backwards! Bikers will face their greatest challenge here and even the toughest riders will end up with their arms like jelly. Some may even get to know the desert after dark… and have to settle for a very short rest day.
For many, the rest day is an important intermediate goal. Whatever happens, it will be time for everyone to take stock of their strategy and use the time wisely to recover in a balanced way, It will be shorter for latecomers, who will certainly have a lot of work to do on their vehicles. The rest will be divided between the maintenance necessary to get back to the dunes and rest in the truest sense of the word. All this while remaining focused on the competition!
The marathon stage gets under way with a fearsome sequence of sand mountains and 100 km of up-and -down racing almost without interruption. Competitors will need to go gentle on their vehicles from the get-go to stop their engines from overheating. The first part comes to an end with a series of stony plateaus and a mix of winding and fast sections. The area set up for participants to work on their vehicles will be off-limits to everyone else.
The second part of the marathon stage tends to reward those who have been cautious in the first one. On top of the satisfaction of blasting through the sandy and then stony tracks of this special, competitors will get to enjoy the most majestic landscapes in the country… while keeping a close eye on the roadbook. If there is a time to whip out the camera, this is it.
The special will get going on the shore of the Red Sea and start with a ramble along the seafront. It will not be all smooth sailing, however, as the course takes the field to tracks that are sometimes fast but often too sandy to push the pedal to the metal. This stage’s length and variety place it among the toughest of these two weeks of racing.
There are not enough superlatives to describe the landscapes in the first part of this stage. The hilly areas that make up most of the rest of the course are just as breathtaking. However, the sandy tracks will provide an opening for navigationsavvy participants to blast their way through the valleys.
The longest special in the rally will set the scene for the decisive showdown among the remaining contenders. Dunes are back after several days to separate the best from the rest in an ocean of sand stretching for almost 100 kilometres where time differences can be huge.
The last stage of the Dakar is not necessarily the easiest. The riders, drivers and co-drivers will still have to deal with the threat of chains of dunes, where getting stuck can easily spell the difference between a sweet ending and a bitter one. However, “celebration” will be the buzzword here, as the finish line on the shore of the Red Sea brings back memories of Lac Rose for some finishers.
Finish and finish podium