The defending Dakar champion, Cyril Despres of Factory Yamaha, earned his first stage win of this year’s competition in Stage 8. He was closely followed by Team HRC’s Joan Barreda in second and current overall leader, Marc Coma of Red Bull Factory KTM, in third. Thanks to some early troubles and an hour penalty for missing a way-point, Despres is still over two hours adrift of the leader, but after his Stage 8 performance the French rider moves up to ninth overall.
The day’s stage started high in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia as riders never dipped below 11,000 feet above sea level while tracing the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. The 287-mile trek to Calama was delayed briefly as low-hanging clouds made it impossible for safety helicopters to take off, though once the skies cleared Barreda opened the road ahead of Coma and Despres. After the opening miles however Barreda’s teammate, Helder Rodrigues, took over the top-spot on the timesheet. Despres and Barreda remained in the top-three while Coma slipped back slightly as Speedbrain’s Jeremias Israel Esquerre and Yamaha’s Oliver Pain throttled ahead in adjusted time. KTM’s Riaan van Niekerk also positioned himself in reach of a top-three result early in the stage.
Upon reaching CP1 Despres had taken over the top-spot from Rodrigues, followed by Van Niekerk, Barreda and Coma. Shortly after the checkpoint Van Niekerk lost ground on the leaders and as the race wore on he fell behind Rodrigues, Pain and Yamaha’s Michael Metge as well.
Despres, Barreda and Coma held steady through the final miles of the stage, with Barreda trailing the French rider by just over two minutes at the finish. Coma finished six seconds behind the Honda ace, ceding little in terms of his overall advantage over Barreda. Rodrigues finished in fourth with Pain and Metge trailing in fifth and sixth, respectively.
“I have to be honest and admit that I didn’t set out this morning to win the special, it was more a by-product of my determination to move up the overall rankings," said Despres. "I won’t deny though that I’m delighted with the result, both for myself and for Yamaha.
"Yesterday wasn’t easy, with an early start on the bivouac and rain on the liaison. Then at altitude I wasn’t 100%, with the thin air making it hard work on the bike. When we finally got to the bivouac in Bolivia myself and Mika took a long time to clean up the bikes and make sure they were up to today’s special, finishing at around ten in the evening. Then this morning we had more rain at the liaison, though fortunately the special was mainly dry. Tomorrow should be an interesting day riding to Iquique and there could be quite a lot of navigation. It won’t be easy opening the piste but I will continue to push.”
Coma maintains a 38-minute lead on Barreda. KTM’s Jordi Viladoms sits third in the overall rankings and is nearly an hour-and-a-half behind the leader. Samsung Sherco Rally Factory’s Alain Duclos is fourth, but he lost significant time in Stage 8 due to technical issues. Esquerre is now three minutes behind Duclos in fifth overall.
Dakar Rally 2014 Stage 8: Uyuni – Calama
1. Cyril Despres, FRA (Yamaha) 5:23:20
2. Joan Barreda, ESP (Honda) 5:25:29
3. Marc Coma, ESP (KTM) 5:25:35
4. Helder Rodrigues, PRT (Honda) 5:29:58
5. Oliver Pain, FRA (Yamaha) 5:34:00
6. Michael Metge, FRA (Yamaha) 5:36:18
7. Riaan van Niekerk, ZAF (KTM) 5:36:35
8. Daniel Gouet, CHL (Honda) 5:36:43
9. Jakub Przygonski, POL (KTM) 5:36:49
10. Jordi Viladoms, ESP (KTM) 5:36:54
Dakar Rally 2014 Overall Standings after Stage 8
1. Marc Coma, ESP (KTM) 32:06:19
2. Joan Barreda, ESP (Honda) 32:44:27
3. Jordi Viladoms, ESP (KTM) 33:33:41
4. Alain Duclos, FRA (Sherco) 33:55:28
5. Jeremias Israel Esquerre, CHL (Speedbrain) 33:58:24
6. Oliver Pain, FRA (Yamaha) 34:05:26
7. Jakub Przygonski, POL (KTM) 34:12:25
8. Helder Rodrigues, PRT (Honda) 34:19:00
9. Cyril Despres, FRA (Yamaha) 34:30:17
10. Daniel Gouet, CHL (Honda) 34:45:10