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Dakar 2020 kicked off last weekend in Saudi Arabia with Stage 1 keeping racers on their toes and the map managing to surprise even the most veteran dune runners.
Toby Price started 2020 picking back where he had left off in 2019 — with a stage win that made sure his opponents heard him loud and clear. The Australian with race number 1 was in no mood to relinquish his throne in Saudi Arabia.
Price noted, “My road book walked out on me after 15-odd kilometres, so it was strange. I was quite lucky in one way because I managed to follow on some dust and just keep up with the guys. Once the road book is gone, then you’re pretty much driving blind. At the moment it looks good on paper, but I think we have a bit of a penalty coming. It’s not the greatest start, but it’s still a long rally to go. We’re in good shape, we feel good on the bike and we’re happy.”
Only two minutes back, Ricky Brabec seemed more than capable of taking the fight to KTM, unless Matthias Walkner, who came in third, goes back to his winning ways.
Vaidotas Žala stunned the favourites to score an upset win in the car category, with his competition not far behind in his rear view.
Žala’s debut in Saudi Arabia was not just a tour de force, it was a performance for the ages. The varied terrain and fiendish navigation of the inaugural stage appeared to rule out any surprises, but instead it witnessed the rise to fame of the newly crowned Lithuanian rally world champion.
At the wheel of an X-Raid Mini, the 32-year-old added his name to the list of Dakar stage winners and proved that his auspicious 12th place in 2019 was no fluke.
Jakub Przygoński was knocked out of contention for the general classification just a few kilometres into the race. Meanwhile, Aron Domżała defied the odds to claim his maiden Dakar stage win in Al Wajh and take over the lead in the SSV category.
Finally, Kamaz found strength in numbers in the truck category, with Anton Shibalov becoming the first leader of the rally.