Despite being a circuit around the coastal area of Neom, Stage 9 of the 2021 Dakar was widely regarded as the toughest stage yet. This is because the 579km stage (including the 465km special) is a combination of fast, sandy tracks and dry, dusty, and massively technical slow-speed sections. Despite the hardships, however, TVS Racing-sponsored privateer Harith Noah put in a stupendous performance, closing the stage in the best position in his Dakar campaign till date.
The route for Stage 9 was not any easy one for Harith, as the dusty conditions made navigation significantly difficult, leading to mistakes early on in the stage sapping quite a bit of his confidence, considering quite a few riders overtook him as a result. With his work cut out for him, he regained his bearings and blazed ahead, regaining the positions he had lost, and then steadily going up the rankings, until he finally closed the stage at an extremely praiseworthy P17, a stupendous 12-place leap up from the previous stage. This directly impacted his overall rankings as well, with Harith now holding the P25 spot!
That said, it was not all smooth sailing. Stage 9 was also the first time Harith received a time penalty in the form of a two-minute slap on the wrist for braking late into a speed zone. And this was topped off with him enduring a minor crash a scant 500 metres away from the finish line.
Stage 10 takes the proceedings from Neom to Al Ula, a 583km (including a 341km special) traverse through the mountains, with the profile changing from a majority sand composition (60 per cent in Stage 9) to one with mostly soil (in the initial sectors) followed by sand for the rest of the stage, as the riders make their way out of the hills and once again into the sandy desert terrain.