The 409 vehicles on the start list inaugurated the Dakar like never before. After departing Jeddah along the Red Sea for a northbound 225 km transfer, the starting shot for the qualifying stage was fired at the entrance to the Medina region. The opening 19 km sprint was a sign of things to come: sandy tracks and dunes in an all-sand timed sector in which the entrants crowned and gobbled up dunes, sometimes even broken ones, and climbed to an altitude of close to 400 masl. On this power hike, competitors were expected to bring their A game from the beginning, much like young biker Daniel Sanders and the evergreen Nasser Al-Attiyah, primed for victory by a bountiful 2021 season. The caravan then headed north-east for a 614 km liaison to Ha’il, where the grand start podium awaited the participants for tomorrow’s stage 1B on a loop course.