The first stage of the 27th edition of the Telefonica Dakar rally started today in Catalunya, Spain, with a 16.7-mile stage that featured a special section on the beach of Castlldefels. As he did a year ago, Yamaha’s David Fretigne started strongly and won the stage, riding his WR450 across the finish line some eight seconds ahead of Gauloises KTM’s Cyril Despres.
Fretigne rode a standard WR450 and not the two-wheel-drive version that he will use later in the rally.
Third place today went to Gauloises KTM’s Eric Verhoef, the Dutchman leading countryman Arjon Brouwer and his Yamaha across the line.
The top American in the rally today was first-timer Kellon Walch on the Red Bull KTM. In front of 200,000 spectators for stage one, the 21-year-old Walch rode his KTM to a fifth-place finish.
Walch’s teammates Chris Blais and team manager Scot Harden ended the stage 38th and 61st, respectively.
Race favorites Alfie Cox and Giovanni Sala had troubles on the opening day of the rally. Cox crashed and injured his shoulder, the South African eventually finishing the stage in 49th place and over a minute behind Despres. Sala, meanwhile, suffered clutch problems and he was forced to push his Repsol KTM across the finish line over eight minutes behind the leader.
Other Americans in the race include Charlie Rauseo (174th), Dave Rauseo (207th) and Kevin Heath (209th).
An interesting in stage one is that the four-wheel stage was won by NASCAR, Indy Car and Baja 1000 racer Robbie Gordon. Gordon, driving a factory Volkswagon in the event, became the first American to ever win a four-wheel stage of the Dakar Rally