Marc Coma posted his third stage victory in the 2012 Dakar Rally but still trails Cyril Despres by more than seven minutes.
During a stage that went down to the wire, Spaniard Marc Coma pulled off his third win of the 2012 Dakar Rally on Saturday just three seconds ahead of KTM’s Cyril Despres. Despite his win, Coma remains more than seven minutes behind his French rival as the series enters its rest day. Meanwhile, Husqvarna’s Paulo Goncalves improved his place in the overall standings after finishing the day less than a second behind Despres in third.
Featuring the longest timed special of the week, Stage 7 was both a physical and mental challenge for riders as they hit the dunes of the Atacama Desert. It’s no surprise that the rally’s two front runners – Coma and Despres – increased their lead over the field today to more than 49 minutes as the 444 km special wreaked havoc on many of the amateurs.
The day started with Coma leading Despres during the 154-km liaison section. By the time they had reached the first checkpoint of the special, however, the Spaniard had moved into the lead and was 12 seconds ahead of Aprilia’s Francisco Lopez, with Despres riding the Chilean’s rear wheel. Joan Barreda Bort and Slovakia’s Stefan Svitko rounded out the top-five as Ruben Faria, Goncalves and Frans Verhoeven rode together 37 seconds behind the front five.
Shortly after passing the first checkpoint Lopez suffered a fall, but he was quick to recover and retained his position. As competitors moved further into the special Despres was able to increase his lead to 28 seconds. When the bikes crossed the second checkpoint of the day, Lopez was beginning to slow and was nearly nine minutes behind Despres.
Frenchman Cyril Despres had a slow day but still managed second in the stage less than a second ahead of Paulo Goncalves.
By the halfway point the running order was: Despres, Bort, Goncalves, Despres, Svitko and Spain’s Gerard Farres Guell.
With the final portion of the day’s special in sight, Coma made up significant ground in the latter stages of the route to close within 300 meters of Despres – making up more than two minutes in total. While running second in the special, Bort made a wrong turn which cost the Spaniard precious time. At Checkpoint No. 3 Coma was still leading Despres, though only by 20 seconds. Meanwhile Javier Pozzolito was stopped in the last 40 kilometers of the stage due to a mechanical problem, which cost the Argentinian more than 40 minutes.
In the sprint to the finish Goncalves had slipped in between the two KTM’s and was running just 34 seconds ahead of Despres, while Coma remained more than a minute and a half out front. Rodrigues also made major progress near the end and was less than five minutes behind the leader after coming in 12th during the first checkpoint. Coma crossed the finish line first, with Despres barely scraping ahead of Goncalves for second. Rodrigues posted an impressive performance in the second half of the stage to maintain his third-place position in the rankings while Gocalves overtook Lopez for fourth overall.
Marc Coma (ESP – KTM) 1st, 2nd OA
“It is common knowledge that the stage before the rest day is always difficult, and today was not an exception, with stifling heat and very soft sand. Nevertheless, we rode very fast and I was able to attack. I gained 2 minutes on Cyril but that is obviously not enough! We know the strategy well, so we are aware that I will probably gain two minutes one day, then Cyril will gain two minutes the next… And it is hard to change this when there is but one road. Anyway, we are second in the general classification on the rest day and everything is going smoothly, so it has been a good rally for us so far.”
Cyril Despres (FRA – KTM) 2nd, 1st OA
“I was a bit lazy today, since Marc led the race from km 200 onwards, the start of the second special, but I think that is also part of the race. So I thank him for this. There is always a strategic aspect, since we know we can control two-minute gaps. Having said that, I finished with my hands paralyzed, but it was a really beautiful special with beautiful dunes… And it feels go to lead the race on the rest day. I am happy.”
Paulo Goncalves (PRT – Husqvarna) 3rd, 4th OA
“This was a very good stage for me and I am very happy about my good time, but especially because I had fun riding on the dunes, although the very soft sand made things difficult. I put time into my rivals, except Marc and Cyril, of course, so it was a good stage for me. Now, I will try to use the rest day to start the second week at the same rhythm and try to keep on going like this, every day, until Lima.”
Francisco Lopez (CHL – Aprilia) 22nd, 2nd OA
“I fell in the first part of the special – not very hard, but enough to re-awaken the pain in my right knee. In the second part of the special I suffered so much on the dunes that I was hardly able to ride. I do not know, but I fail to see how I could continue tomorrow. Fortunately, tomorrow is the rest day, so I will see the bivouac doctors and call mine, but I think my Dakar has come to an end. I am in a world of pain right now.”
2012 Dakar Rally Stage 7 Results:
1. Marc Coma, SPA (KTM) 03:51:35
2. Cyril Despres, FRA (KTM) 03:53:38
3. Paulo Goncalves, PRT (Husqvarna) 03:54:24
Portugal’s Paulo Goncalves used Stage 7 to improve to fourth in the standings after finishing the day in third.
4. Helder Rodrigues, PRT (Yamaha) 03:55:21
5. Gerard Farres Guell, ESP (KTM) 03:58:25
6. Pal Anders Ullevalseter, NOR (KTM) 03:59:42
7. David Casteu, FRA (Yamaha) 04:00:18
8. Ruben Faria, PRT (KTM) 04:00:23
9. Frans Verhoeven, NLD (Sherco) 04:00:59
10. Jordi Viladoms, ESP (KTM) 04:03:01
2012 Dakar Rally Overall Standings:
1. Cyril Despres, FRA (KTM) 18:12:38
2. Marc Coma, ESP (KTM) 18:20:26
3. Helder Rodrigues, PRT (Yamaha) 19:02:17
4. Paulo Goncalves, PRT (Husqvarna) 19:08:11
5. David Casteu, FRA (Yamaha) 19:18:16
6. Jordi Viladoms, ESP (KTM) 19:20:18
7. Gerard Farres Guell, ESP (KTM) 19:20:38
8. Stefan Svitko, SVK (KTM) 19:29:57
9. Francisco Lopez, CHL (Aprilia) 19:29:58
10. Juan Pedrero Garcia, ESP (KTM) 19:36:26