|SA-Dakar Rally: Stage 05 victory to Despres to consolidate the overall lead.|
KTM’s two lead riders Cyril Despres and Marc Coma continued on their quest to dominate the Dakar 2012 on Thursday in a close-knit battle that saw Despres take the stage victory and consolidate his overall lead one day before the rally enters Chile.
With five stages completed, four have gone to KTM, two to Despres and two to Coma who are both bidding for their fourth Dakar title. It was also Cyril’s 28th Dakar stage victory in his career.
It was ‘welcome to the white sand dunes of Fiambalá for the riders after the liaison stretch of 151 km that started the day. The Fiambalá dunes have a fierce reputation for ruining chances of advancement in the world’s toughest rally and demand absolute concentration on the road book to ensure no costly navigational errors.
Coma opened the road as Stage Four winner but it was Despres who had the edge at the day’s first Way Point where he had already moved ahead by 58 seconds. Astonishingly the gap between the two KTM factory riders was identical as they passed Way Point Two and they had already begun to distance themselves from the rest of the field.
Both riders, the world’s best contemporary rally raid exponents gave no ground as they attacked the stage. At the end of the 265 km timed special they were still only separated by one minute 41 seconds and Despres was almost 13 minutes ahead of the third rider to cross the finish line.
As the race continues to shape up as a battle between these two KTM factory riders, they have already managed to distance themselves from the rest of the field in the overall standings. Despres is now 47 minutes ahead of third placed Helder Rodrigues of Portugal. Overall, it was a good stage for the Austrian brand with seven KTM riders in the top 10 finishers.
"After the first day, you could have said that lots of other riders were going to be involved in the fight, but in the end, there aren't too many" said Cyril Despres after the stage.
"The gaps aren't very big at the moment and we're playing with gaps of two minutes. Today was easier for me, because I set off behind Coma. Perhaps tomorrow, it will be the opposite. I've got a lead over him and it's a fairly comfortable cushion. Mind you, it can disappear quickly, so I need to keep the same state of mind and the same amount of concentration."
Marc Coma said: "It was another hard and complicated stage: the mythical Fiambala stage. The special was a bit shorter than planned. In physical terms, that's good, but for me, the more distance there is, the more difficulties there are, the more likely something may happen and the more opportunities might come my way. I made a small mistake and I'm paying for it. But I'm still here and still aiming to win. With the Atacama, it's a new race that begins. We'll see what happens."
Thursday’s stage was also a strong one for Despres’ support rider Rubin Faria of Portugal who finished seventh while Coma’s support rider Joan Pedrero of Spain was 13th across the line today.
Pedrero is now overall eighth but Faria has incurred a 40-minute penalty and is further back in the field. It was also a strong day for KTM Enduro factory rider Johnny Aubert, experiencing his first Dakar Rally. Johnny is riding a series model KTM 450 rally bike, not a factory bike and his mission is to ride, learn, gather experience and have fun.
But while Despres and Coma have a comfortable cushion at this point in the rally, both the three-times Dakar winners are acutely aware that it is not over until it is over. In past Dakar rallies both of these riders have had the soul-destroying experience of almost having victory in their grasp only to see it slip through their fingers in the final stages. So it will be with this in mind that tomorrow they will face abundant physical and mental challenges.
Crossing the Andes by the El Paso de San Francisco pass will be a breath robbing experience as riders climb to an altitude of 4700 meters above sea level. With this behind them they will they will plunge down into the notorious Atacama Desert, the driest place on the planet and a virtual sea of sand. It will be a day when they will not only need superb riding skills, physical fitness and absolute mental concentration; they will also play the tactical game.
The reward for surviving Stage 6 is the one rest day, the only brief respite on this tortuous 9000-km ride from the Atlantic coast at Mar Del Plata, Argentina to Lima, Peru on the Pacific coast. It is of course a rest day only in name. In reality the teams will have a full program to prepare riders and machines for the second half of the rally.
2012/01/06 | 11:10 CET | ARTICLE: MR/SY/KTM