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Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge: Marc Coma secures third desert classic victory.

It was the Spanish rider's third win in the United Arab Emirates event in four years and follows on from his Dakar 2009 triumph, the first time the legendary classic was run in South America in January of this year.

Coma, who assumed the lead on Thursday over his teammate Despres, took advantage of a new regulation that allows the race leader to choose a starting position for the final stage. Marc opted to start in fourth place on a day that presented strong winds and where shifting sands reduced visibility. He was able to follow the tracks of those in front and had extended his lead by over two and a half minutes at the first checkpoint. Coma eventually finished five minutes 42 seconds ahead of Despres with Ullesvalseter joining the world's two best rally riders on the podium. All three were onboard KTM 690 R machines.

S├ębastien Husseini came in as the leading Quad in ninth place overall in the bike category riding a KTM 525 XC therefore achieving his ambition of a top ten place.

Slim first stage lead for Despres

The race was launched in earnest on Monday after Sunday's super special with riders being hampered by strong winds, occasional restricted visibility and shifting sands with Despres arriving at the Tal Mureeb bivouac with a slim 41 seconds edge on Coma after the 442.36km of high speed sand flats and sabkas (salt flats). Ullesvalseter of Norway settled in behind the two KTM factory riders in third place.

Coma in front after stage two

Low-lying fog delayed the start on Tuesday where riders had to tackle soft sand and high temperatures but Coma struck back during the 296.75 km desert loop, setting the stage for what was to be a tactical game by the world's two top riders. The Spaniard was a 1m 39 s faster over Despres at the first passage control and finished the day's ride with a 1m 25s lead. Ullesvalseter, second over the stage retained his third overall place behind Coma and Despres.

Cat and mouse in third and fourth stages

The overall lead reverted to the Frenchman Despres in stage three, a 340 km loop in what was regarded as the most difficult stage of the rally. He slipped past his arch rival but admitted there was still a lot of work to do. "This is typical for the Desert Challenge. It is never easy," By the end of the day over the tricky dunes Coma had narrowed the deficit to the slimmest 22 second margin. Then, on the penultimate day, beset by strong winds and hampered visibility, Coma again reclaimed the lead from Despres to set up a gladiatorial battle on the final day.

Coma the master tactician

With the weather a major factor on the final day, all that was left was for Coma to play his ace card, choose his starting position carefully and go out and finish the job. He closed out the race in third place in the final stage, and with Despres coming in at fifth, the prize again went to KTM's Spanish rider.
"It's a great feeling to take a second win of the season and to keep up that winning run," Coma told reporters, "Today was very difficult. The first part of the stage was in a sand storm and you couldn't see the dunes or the track too well. The last section was faster, but there were some difficult sand spits to deal with."

Overall Results
1. Marc Coma, Spain, KTM, 20h 18m 00s
2. Cyril Despres, France, KTM, 20h 23m 42s
3. Pal-Anders Ullesvalseter, Norway, KTM, 20h 25m 36s
4. Sean Gaugain, South Africa, Honda, 20h 46m 11s
5. Mark Ackerman, South Africa, KTM, 20h 49m 53s
6. Jakub Przygonski, Poland, KTM, 20h 50m 32s
7. Dave McBride, Britain, Honda, 20h 58m 38s
8. Jacek Czachor, Poland, KTM, 21h 56m 33s
9. S├ębastien Husseini, Netherlands, KTM 525 XC, 22h 02m 36s* (top Quad)
10. Sean Linton, Britain, Honda, 22h 11m 50s

2009/03/28 | 17:52 CET | Editor: MR/KTM/Rita Konya

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