South Africa’s Off Road and Cross-Country Master, Alfie Cox, is fit and ready to race his heart out during this week’s UAE Desert Challenge. With this only his second international race since his disastrous crash in the 2003 Dakar race, in January, he is ready to give it his best shot to assure that he is still on the pace, and ready for the 2004 Dakar race. -

- Loved by the international media for his graphic explanations and bubbly personality, the 40-year old Cox said in an interview: “I am here to practice and do well in the event. After I damaged my shoulder in Dakar, I could not race, and was forced to let my shoulder recover. It took much longer than we anticipated and I had a long year with endless frustration, not being able to race.” -

- After his excellent performance in the Rallye des Pharaons three weeks ago, Cox seems set and ready to give the UAE Deserts his best shot. Racing for the Gauloises KTM Factory Team, Cox will ensure that he goes into the Dakar event as a prominent threat to anyone who lets the concentration slip. -

- The 13th UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge got underway this afternoon (Monday) with a timed Prologue stage on the exciting new Palm Island development off the coast of Jumeira, Dubai. -

- The tactical fight amongst the world’s best motorcyclists was again very clear when completely unknown riders took the overall spots today. Cyril Despres, defending champion of the event, clearly stated that you play catch-up from tomorrow, with slower runners laying the tracks in the very soft and uneven sand. -

- The event will continue with its now traditional format, having started in Abu Dhabi and offering four stages across the remote deserts of the Abu Dhabi and Dubai Emirates, with the bivouac sited at Mizaira'a in the heart of the Liwa oasis for a third successive year - deep in the heart of the Rub Al-Khali or Empty Quarter. -

- This overnight halt will be used for three nights, as the world's leading enduro riders and car drivers tackle two loop stages in and out of Liwa, one stage from Abu Dhabi to Liwa and the final stage from the Liwa region to the finish near Dubai. -

- With Spaniard Nani (Juan) Roma on the twin cylinder 900cc KTM LC8, everyone will hope for technical stages, as the big monster is difficult to handle in the tight stuff. In the single cylinder 700cc struggle, the competition is the worst it has been over the past few years. Cox will be up against Frenchman Cyril Despres, Ullevaster (Sweden), Dabrowski (Poland), Caldecott (Australia), McBride (UAE) to name a few. -

- Although they finish around lunchtime daily, competitors only get the road books (for the next day) at 18h30 every night. Although the route looks quite similar to the last two seasons, the Emirates have had no rain, so the sand is incredibly soft with lots of "sand spits" this is when the sand is blown over a hard pressed track/road and the sand then forms ridges, which will in some cases result in some big jumps. With the sand all being one colour it is quite difficult to see... when you’re going like a bat out of hell!! -

- The road book is in English and even the rider briefings are English (not in the usual French as per all the other rallies!!) and the road books have lots of GPS points. -

- Cox feels fit and just wants "to get the show on the road". It is very hot and the humidity is very high this year. -

- Tomorrow the first riders leave the podium at 09h30, with a 30 second dust gap between competitors. -

- FIM World Championship contenders Joan Roma and Cyril Despres will start from the rear of the motorcycle field, after they both stopped near the end of the section for three minutes to avoid running in front on Tuesday's section. Roma jokingly complained of engine maladies and Despres of a gearbox problem, but it was plainly a tactical decision by both riders, as they dropped over three minutes on the leaders. -

- "It is nice to get the Prologue under our belt," said tactician Despres. -

- "It's good entertainment for the spectators, but we all know that the real rally starts in the desert. It was very humid on the stage, but there was no advantage to be gained by winning the section today." -

- The real racing action begins on tomorrow (Tuesday) morning. The official start will be at the Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi at 09.30 where motorcycles lead the international entry from a staggering 28 countries into the first 318km special stage across the Monassir Plateau. -

- Positions after Prologue stage - Bikes (unofficial - top 6) -

- 1. Mitsuru Koizumi (J) KTM 640 Adventure 2m 34s-

- 2. Marek Podlipny (CZ) Yamaha 660 2m 47s -

- 3. Giovanni Martelozzo (I) Yamaha WR450 2m 49s-

- 4. Fabio Benetti (I) KTM 660 Rally 2m 50s-

- 5. Francois Berland (F) Yamaha Raptor 660 2m 50s-

- 6. Issam Abu Jaoude (RL) Yamaha Raptor 660 2m 51s-

- Positions after Prologue stage - Cars (unofficial) -

- 1. Giniel de Villiers (ZA)/Francois Jordaan (ZA) Nissan Pick-Up 2m 44s-

- 2. Miki Biasion (I)/Tiziano Siviero (I) Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution 2m 48s -

- 3. Hiroshi Masuoka (J)/Gilles Picard (F) Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution 2m 49s-

- 4. Gregoire de Mevius (B)/Alain Guehennec (F) BMW X5 2m 50s-

- 5. Ari Vatanen (SF)/Juha Repo (SF) Nissan Pick-Up 2m 50s -

- 6. Stephane Peterhansel (F)/Jean-Paul Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution 2m 50s -

- 7. Carlos Sousa (P)/Henri Magne (AND) Mitsubishi L200 Strakar 2m 51s -

-

Original article from Car