Alfie Cox today proved his excellence and the reason why he is the best Cross-Country Rally motorcyclist South Africa has ever had, by finishing second in the motorcycle category after a gruelling first stage in the 2003 UAE Desert Challenge. -

- With only defending champion, Cyril Despres from France, ahead of Cox after the first stage on the overall times, this promises to be a dog fight to the finish. -

- “I was very nervous before the start this morning, because I started in a low down position and I did not quite know what to expect from the dust, but in the end the different tactics worked very well,” said a perky Cox at the finish. -

- Twin-cylinder KTM racing Spaniard, Nani Roma, withdrew from the race with a hand injury. Roma hurt his hand last month, in the Pharaohs Rally, and the pain became worse when he passed over a dune today, which meant the end of his event. -

- When asked about his tactics today, Cox replied: “With Cyril and Nani behind me, I knew I had to keep the pace up all day. I came into a good rhythm quite quickly and managed to ride hard. I could not only rely on the tracks in the sand, because we had a lot of young and inexperienced competitors ahead, so I had to confirm the route all the time. The going was quite tough in the dust, but it all worked out well. I started about 50th so I am quite happy with my day.” -

- He continued: “I was worried when we hit the 18km of real soft and steep dunes on midday with the temperature above 40 degrees Celsius. The fans came on and the overheat light started flashing, I even smelt the antifreeze boiling out, but I tapped off, used higher gears and fortunately things worked out real well. -

- Today’s stage took competitors from the Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi, across the Monassir Plateau, to the overnight bivouac at Liwa, a relatively straightforward opening stage. -

- Defending champion, Cyril Despres is adamant to win this race again, but tomorrow he will face a major test when he leads the race on the road, while Alfie Cox will chase hard to catch. -

- “I will try hard to catch Cyril tomorrow, obviously Debrowski will try the same on me, but I think we can pull a gap on him, securing our positions. Problem I foresee is that Cyril will merely defend his position and would not want to risk anything in racing away from the rest of the guys’” said Cx after receiving the road book for tomorrow’s stage. -

- Cox ran through tomorrow’s road book explaining: “Starting at 06h00 (04h00 SA time), with a 25km liaison, 388km special and then 57km liaison back to the bivouac. The road book shows a mixture of terrain, dune crossings, sabkha plains (these are flat plains between the dunes), which are very rough. There are a lot of off piste (off-road tracks), which means your navigation is important. From 348km to the end the race is totally off piste – where we need to follow the GPS and landmarks as highlighted in the road book.” -

- A road liaison takes teams into the second night at the Mizai'ra base camp. -

- Fog is predicted for tomorrow, which means the rally will start and the first liaison be run, after which the race will be decontrolled until the helicopter can fly, then the race will continue. -

- “The new swapping rule for the top five riders does not apply tomorrow, so we start as we finished, which has a massive effect on the race leader. I will attack tomorrow, but I also need to protect my second place from Debrowski,” remarked Cox. -

- Overall Positions after Leg 1 - Bikes (unofficial) 1. Cyril Despres (F) KTM 660 Rally 3h 13m 33s-

- 2. Alfie Cox (ZA) KTM 3h 18m 44s-

- 3. Marek Dabrowski (PL) KTM 660 Rally 3h 20m 52s-

- 4. Andy Caldecott (AUS) KTM 660 Rally 3h 24m 37s-

- 5. Jacek Czachor (PL) KTM 660 Rally 3h 27m 03s-

- 6. Pal-Anders Ullesvalseter (N) KTM Rally 3h 29m 21s-

- 7. Francois Flick (F) KTM Replica 3h 29m 44s-

- 8. Joan Roma (E) KTM Rally 3h 29m 57s-

- Overall Positions after Leg 1 - Cars (unofficial) -

- 1. Giniel de Villiers (ZA)/Francois Jordaan (ZA) Nissan Pick-Up 2h 48m 34s -

- 2. Gregoire de Mevius (B)/Arnaud Debron (F) BMW 2h 49m 05s-

- 3. Miki Biasion (I)/Tiziano Siviero (I) Mitsubishi Pajero Evo 2h 50m 34s -

- 4. Stephane Peterhansel (F)/Jean-Paul Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero Evo 2h 51m 51s-

- 5. Carlos Sousa (P)/Henri Magne (AND) Mitsubishi L200 Strakar 2h 54m 47s-

- 6. Ari Vatanen (SF)/Juha Repo (SF) Nissan Pick-Up 2h 54m 48s-

- 7. Khalifa Al-Motaiwi (UAE)/Philip Tiefenbach (D) BMW X5 3h 07m 21s-

- 8. Jean-Louis Schlesser (F)/Jean-Marie Lurquin (F) Schlesser-Ford 3h 07m 28s-

- 9. Yayha Alhili (UAE)/Khaled Al-Kendi (UAE) Chevrolet Tahoe 3h 14m 28s-

- 10. Andrea Mayer (D)/Andreas Schulz (D) Mitsubishi Pajero 3h 15m 38s

Original article from Car