Red Bull KTM's Chris Blais narrowly missed a stage victory on Day 3 but a runner-up finish boosted him to fifth in the overall standings.
American riders got a big boost in the standings as the Dakar Rally laid the first tracks in Africa. After unloading their bikes from an overnight ferry across the Mediterranean Sea Red Bull KTM's Chris Blais made up for a poor result on Day 2 with a runner-up finish on the longest special stage to date. The 252 km timed section took 3:08'35 for Blais to blaze, only 56 seconds behind Stage 3 winner, Marc Coma. Blais jumped to fifth overall only 8'37 behind fellow American Jonah Street. The Pai-Rally Pan American KTM rider is in excellent standing after finishing fifth in today's rocky stage. With both primary US contenders finishing inside the top-5 for the day and in overall standings, the Nador-to-Er Rachidia stage has been a good one.
Isidre Esteve Pujol has taken the overall lead with another consistent performance. The Spaniard finished third and is now the overall leader by 26 seconds over his countryman, Coma. Frenchman David Casteu has been another rock-solid finisher with his third consecutive fourth-place finish. The early leaders, however, have suffered once the ferry dropped them outside of their homeland territory. Ruben Faria failed to complete Stage 3 and Helder Rodrigues slipped to 23 for the day. Rodrigues is still in fantastic position as he sits behind Blais in sixth overall.
Mauritanian rider, Med Zidane Soueid Ahmed, finished the first stage in his home country in 185th position. He currently sits in 171st overall at 3:18'57 behind the leader. Tomorrow will push the competitors as the special stage nearly doubles in length to a grueling 405 km.
Marc Coma (Repsol KTM) - Winner, 2nd OA
It was a typically Moroccan stage: very stony, especially at the beginning. I started the stage in a good position thanks to my ranking. I knew that the two Portuguese wouldn't stay ahead for long. I overtook them, then Casteu before catching up with Isidre (Esteve). We rode together from there on in. For the moment, everything is going as planned, but it's an open race. Now the aim is to get through the two coming Moroccan stages without problems. That means more than 700 kilometers of special stages without assistance. I've got some mechanical skills thanks to my endurance racing background. I hope that will be enough.
Chris Blais (Red Bull KTM) - 2nd, 5th OA
This morning I was eleven minutes behind at the beginning, so I started out with a lot of time to make up. I had to get past a lot of riders, it was really good fun, I must have overtaken around forty. I really like the profile of this special stage, especially the second part, where you could really turn up the throttle.
Isidre Esteve Pujol (Gauloises KTM) - 3rd, 1st OA
The first 80 kilometers were difficult. There were lots of stones and rocks. You really had to follow the road book, page by page. After that, the track was very good. I didn't go flat out, even if the stage was very quick. There was plenty of pace and I enjoyed myself. Being leader is not the prime objective. What I really want is to get to the rest day with a serious option for overall victory. Now it's important to take things step by step, day after day. There are two complicated Moroccan stages to handle. The next two days are going to be very hard.
David Casteu (Gauloises KTM) - 4th, 3rd OA
Cyril Despres had mechanical woes that left him trudging along in first gear for most of the day. The Gauloises team will need to replace the gearbox before tackling another stage.
I did what was necessary. I stayed in the race without taking risks. Everything went well. There were parts that were very technical with lots of ups and downs where you had to be very careful. The race started very quickly and the experienced riders are all in contention. I'm very happy with my day, especially since the new bike is working really well. It's a lot more stable.
Jonah Street (Pai-Rally Pan American KTM) - 5th, 4th OA
Basically I tried to get into navigation rhythm and work through the dust. I did really good and didn't get lost. Just had to slow down a few times to make sure I was going the right way. It was kind of hard because I was behind some guys going slower, and I had to get past them. But it was fun, I had a great time.
Cyril Despres (Gauloises KTM) - 21st, 16th OA
I am really not lucky. Nothing but bad luck. I broke the gear-box and I had to ride the final part of the stage in first gear. I was first until CP1 but above all I truly enjoyed the ride! Now I am still happy that I reached the finish line. Anyway, the race is not lost yet. I know I had a problem today but tomorrow is another day. The other riders can also have problems. My problem right now is that I have to ride for 200 km in first gear for the connection section. After that, there's still a race to be won.
The terrain on Day 3 sent riders through the longest special test of the opening days. Rocky ground met the competitors in this first African stage.
For more information and live tracking, visit www.dakar.com
Stage 3 Results:
1. Coma, KTM
2. Blais, KTM
3. Esteve Pujol, KTM
4. Casteu, KTM
5. Street, KTM
6. Duclos, KTM
7. Viladoms, KTM
8. De Azevedo, KTM
9. Verhoeven, KTM
10. Lopez, Hon
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