Spain’s defending Dakar motorcycling champion Marc Coma regained the overall lead in his thrilling duel with France’s three-time winner Cyril Despres on Monday after winning the eighth stage.
Coma’s compatriot Nani Roma completed a great day for Spain by winning his second stage of the race in the car section in his Mini, although French Dakar legend Stephane Peterhansel retained the overall lead.
Coma had been more than seven minutes behind Despres going into the 477km stage from Copiapo, but the Spaniard benefited from his fellow KTM rider having problems early on when he got stuck in a boggy patch that had not been highlighted in the race book.
Despres eventually came in 17 minutes, 20 seconds in arrears of Coma, but race stewards took into account his time spent in the bog and amended his time accordingly to 9 minutes, 14 seconds — he trails Coma by 1 minute, 26 seconds in the overall standings.
Coma’s fourth stage win — his 20th overall — of the Rally saw him finish in a time of 5 hours, 3 minutes, 52 seconds, 7 minutes faster than his teammate, Portuguese rider Ruben Faria, while the latter’s compatriot, Yamaha rider Helder Rodrigues, was 7 minutes 10 seconds adrift in third.
“My 20th special victory: A nice figure,” the 35-year-old Coma said. “Yet it is not winning specials that counts, but winning the race and I know there is still a long week of racing ahead.”
Despres for his part said that he could not avoid the mishap that befell him.
“There was a torrent of mud between the inspection of the reconnaissance car two days ago and today [Monday]. Therefore, it did not appear in the road book and I was the first to fall into the trap. There was no way I could have avoided it,” Despres said.
Roma — a former winner in the motorbike section — finished in a time of 4 hours, 25 minutes, 44 seconds, 5 seconds quicker than American Robby Gordon, driving a Hummer, while former overall leader and fellow Mini pilot Krzysztof Holowczyc was third, 2 minutes, 4 seconds adrift.
Peterhansel — a six-time Dakar motorcycling champion and three-time car winner — came in fourth, 5 minutes 38 seconds slower, while defending champion Nasser al-Attiyah of Qatar was fifth in his Hummer, but lost more time on the overall leader as he was 8 minutes, 9 seconds adrift.
Gordon slashed 3 minutes off 46-year-old Peterhansel’s overall lead and trails him by 7 minutes, 36 seconds.
Indeed, Peterhansel cursed himself after the special and said he feared Gordon could deprive him of an historic 10th win.
“I am losing loads of time. I drove quite slowly in the rocky parts because I was scared of punctures. And despite this ... I had one 30km from the finish,” the Frenchman said. “Gordon started three minutes before us and 180km from here we had got to 30 seconds behind him. I think that when he saw us he stepped it up, leaving us in the dust. He can win this thing.”
Al-Attiyah has been plagued by problems from the off — he had more on Monday — but he refused to give up hope of still making a significant mark on the race.
“There were six cars in front of us and we overtook all the Minis, as well as De Villiers’ Toyota,” the 31-year-old said. “We did a good job. They are nervous because I overtook all of them, but that is not my problem. I know everything is going smoothly, and we will see how far we can go.”