It was business as usual for the two lead KTM factory riders, Cyril Despres and Marc Coma on Tuesday when riders set out for Stage 9 of the Dakar 2012 on a large arc from Antofagasta to Iquique in Chile. Despres, who had a dramatic day on Monday landing in a mud hole, went out like a man possessed, led throughout to claim the stage and reclaim the overall lead.
It was the French rider’s third stage victory in this edition. Coma has won four stages and with Stage Six scrapped, KTM has claimed seven of eight stages so far. Both riders are chasing their fourth Dakar Rally title and if either of them succeed it will represent KTM’s eleventh successive victory. The Austrian sports motorcycle specialist has shut out all the competition in every Dakar Rally since 2001 (the 2008 edition was cancelled).
Despres ended yesterday with a deficit of around 12 minutes after sacrificing the overall lead to Coma. The mud hole turned out to be a natural hazard that occurred after the final official inspection had been done by organizers and was not marked on the road book. Cyril and six other riders got stuck in the mud and race officials decided a detour was in order rather than deal with the obvious chaos. They later reinstated lost time to the riders disadvantaged and when they left on Tuesday Cyril trailed Marc by just over a minute.
It was with this in mind that he put down the hammer on his KTM 450 Rally bike and rode with a passion to lead throughout the special. His reward for such a doggedly determined ride was his third stage victory in Dakar 2012 to level with Coma’s three stages and a narrow lead in the overall standings.
Despres however went back to the bivouac knowing that the job is far from done. At the fourth Way Point Coma was 3 minutes 55 behind and at the finish, after riders had engaged in the steep descent down to Iquique, he trailed by 3 minutes 54 seconds. With third placed Helder Rodrigues of Portugal behind Despres at 59 minutes 19 seconds, the 33rd Dakar Rally continues to be a two-rider race.
Despres said he was feeling good after the stage. “I had to get back to my winning ways after a difficult day yesterday when you start to doubt. It wasn’t easy to psyche myself up for it, but I’m very happy with my day’s work. We came into this looking at a battle for seconds or minutes. It’s very competitive. Like any sportsman, if you don’t like confrontation or squeezing the last ounces of strength out of yourself, then you’re not ready for a fight. But, as for me, I’m up for it.”
Meanwhile Coma is very aware that the race is still wide open and he remains cool, strong and ready to apply the necessary tactics. “We knew that this would be difficult today. It was a long special and there was plenty of navigation to deal with. We’re not coming to the crunch part of the rally. Cyril is a major rival and we do battle over every single kilometer. But I think it’s interesting, its sport.”
Joan Pedrero (Spain) and Rubin Faria (Portugal), the two support riders for the Coma and Despres finished twelfth and thirteenth respectively. Faria made a recovering after having to stop briefly just 1.7 km after the start.
The first part of the timed special was relatively fast with patches of fesh-fesh, very fine dust like flour. The second special tested the navigational skills and the stage finished with a steep descent down to the coast at Iqique, a slope that already was a feature of the 2010 Dakar.
Stage 10 takes the Dakar Caravan from Iquique to Arica right on the border of Peru. It will be the riders’ last encounter with Chile’s notorious Atacama Desert with another dose of the power soft and quite treacherous fesh-fesh dust. Arica was the most northern point in last year’s rally. But it will not be the end of the sands. This year they continue into the coastal desert of Peru into the region of the famous Nazcar Lines, the ancient geoglyphs that are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.