Saturday in Abu Dhabi saw a short two-kilometer Super Special Stage held close to the bivouac at the famous Yas Marina circuit. Matthias Walkner excelled on the twisting track to post the fastest time and earn himself the advantage of being the 15th rider to enter Sunday’s stage. Totaling 366.84 kilometers, and including a timed special of 262.02 kilometers, stage one of the event proved to be fast-paced with the majority ridden in the rolling dunes of the Liwa Desert.
Although his start position meant he was able to make up time by chasing down the 14 riders ahead of him, it also meant Walkner had to catch and pass those riders to maintain his speed as he navigated through the mixed Abu Dhabi terrain. A strong performance on the opening half of the special saw the Austrian lying second by the refueling point, from where he got his head down to try and make up time on the leader.
Completing the special in second, a mere six seconds down on the stage winner, Matthias lies second overall in the provisional rally standings – just four seconds back thanks to his Prologue performance. Now, with an excellent opportunity to chase down the race leader on Monday’s stage two, Walkner is extremely happy with how his race has started.
Matthias Walkner: “I had a good day today – the pace was really high and by the refueling I could see I was about one minute down of the leader. I pushed as hard as I could after that and managed to bring the gap down to just six seconds, which I was happy with. It puts me in a really good position for tomorrow’s stage and hopefully I can make up a little more time. The goal of the rally is to just enjoy my riding, get some more time on the bike, and not make any big mistakes. I’ll give it my best as always, and hopefully keep this momentum up for the rest of the race.”
Monday’s stage two of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is the longest of the event at 470.58 kilometers and will see riders take on a timed special of 333.43 kilometers.
Provisional Results – Stage 1 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 2021
1. Ross Branch (BWA), Yamaha, 3:20:19
2. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 3:20:25 +6 seconds
3. Franco Caimi (ARG), Hero, 3:23:21 +3:02
4. Daniel Sanders (AUS), GASGAS, 3:23:26 +3:07
5. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 3:25:11 +4:52
Provisional Standings – Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 2021 after 1 of 5 stages
1. Ross Branch (BWA), Yamaha, 3:25:31
2. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 3:25:35 +4 seconds
3. Daniel Sanders (AUS), GASGAS, 3:28:38 +3:06
4. Franco Caimi (ARG), Hero, 3:28:39 +3:07
5. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 3:30:36 +5:04