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Dakar 2009: Coma, Al Attiyah and Van Vliet in front

Whilst Marc Coma’s victory was foreseeable for the first stage, the magnitude of his success and the catastrophes experienced by other bike race favorites put paid to most of the predictions. Despres and Casteu may have already seen their hopes for overall Dakar victory evaporate. In the car race, BMW met both with success, for Nasser Al Attiyah, and disappointment, with Guerlain Chicherit’s accident, after he started out of the blocks a bit too ambitiously.

Marc Coma’s methodology does not involve hesitation. He seems to have even grown in stature since the Dakar in 2007, where he was way ahead of all his pursuers in the first two decisive steps in Morocco, at Er Rachidia and Ouarzazate. On the inaugural special of this 31st edition, the Spaniard carved out a gulf between him and his rivals, confirming his unofficial status as the fastest rider in the world. Having started behind title holder Cyril Despres, the winner in 2006 already boasted the best intermediate time after 134 km of the race, 1” ahead. He used this first section to catch up with Despres, and what was to follow was a springboard to leaving him in his wake at CP 3 (after 248 km), with the race becoming a demonstration ride. On the 123 km of long straight tracks remaining, Coma showed the full extent of his power: at the finishing line at San Saladillo, he had to wait for almost half an hour before the first of his pursuers arrived. Finally, it was Jacek Czachor who came home in second position, with a gap to make up that would destabilize even the toughest of competitors: more than 22 minutes.

There is no way of really knowing whether the pitfalls at the start of this event will be fatal to overall hopes. However, the situation has never been as critical in terms of final triumph for Cyril Despres. With uncertainty hanging over his choice of tires for this year before the start, the Frenchman received some sort of confirmation on this first special stage: he crossed the line with the rims bare on his rear wheel, 41 minutes behind Coma! Others misfortune rarely lessens his own distress, but David Casteu, a serious challenger for the title, also experienced problems with his tires. Following a puncture, he was forced to turn round and head back to CP2, where one of his team-mates, Emanuel Gyenes, gave him his rear wheel. In total, he has a deficit of 1:01.53 to make up on Coma over the next 13 stages if he still hopes to win.

The day also turned out to be a catastrophe for one of the drivers involved in the struggle for the lead, because Guerlain Chicherit, having gone through CP3 with the best time of the day, lost all hope of making an impression on the stage, and probably even on the whole event, by rolling his car onto its roof after 277 km. The outcome was not as pessimistic for Dieter Depping, who also flew through the first 250 kilometers, but then experienced electronic problems with his VW Race Touareg. He finished the stage an hour behind Nasser Al Attiyah, whose victory will probably not help to console the X-Raid team. However, for the Qatari, triumphant the last time out during the UAE Desert Challenge race, it was his second success on the Dakar, after the Nema-Nema loop in 2007. Today’s showing confirms his status as an outside chance for overall victory.

Ultimately, the two biggest teams on the rally, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen, had to settle for battling for the runner-up position and other places. Carlos Sainz was the most convincing at this game, taking second place behind Al Attiyah, followed closely by his two team-mates, Giniel De Villiers and Mark Miller. Used to pursuing, the Mitsubishi drivers lost a bit of ground on their main rivals: Alphand finished 4.44 behind the day’s winner and Peterhansel 4.54. Just behind them, Argentine Orlando Terranova once again showed how competitive the BMW X-3s are, with a 7th-placed finish on his first day on the event.

2009/01/03 | 20:15 CET | Editor: MR/HS/ASO

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