Marc Coma had no dust in front of him today as he left first off the line. Even with clear sailing, he couldn't hold off fellow Spaniard Esteve Pujol who took the Stage 5 victory.
The battle royal continues between the two powerhouse KTM teams Repsol and Gauloises. Isidre Esteve Pujol put the well-known blue bike of Gauloises at the front today as he caught Repsol rider Marc Coma from over 12 minutes behind at the start of the 325 km special test. Liaisons of 164 km and 279 km made this route from Ouarzazate to Tan Tan the longest to date and the second-longest of the entire rally. Tomorrow's Stage 6 is the only day of competition that will give riders as much seat time as it heads 817 km (508 miles) to Zouerat.
Nearly 100 km into the Moroccan special, Pujol paralleled Coma and the two rode near each other through the rest of the section. Thanks to his fast pace early on, Pujol chipped 1'54 off the Spaniard's lead and is now less than 10 minutes behind in the overall. David Casteu still holds down third in the standings despite an eighth-place result in Stage 5, his lowest to date.
The 2005 champion, Gauloises' Cyril Despres, finally seems to be running in championship form by matching yesterday's performance with another third-place result. It was good enough to jump into fourth place overall, 47'36 behind the leader but only 10 minutes behind Casteu in third OA. Jordi Viladoms made his first top-5 appearance for the Repsol squad as he followed five minutes behind Despres. His presence gave a decided Spanish flavor to the proceedings as three of the top-5 (Pujol, Coma, Viladoms) hail from Spain.
Chilean rider Francisco Lopez had his best day yet with a seventh on his CRF450X, the highest Honda finish since Thierry Bethys took fifth in Portugal on the opening day. Lopez is now inside the top-10 overall at a respectable 1:13'53 behind the leader in ninth.
Red Bull KTM and its sole rider, Chris Blais, continue to impress with a stage placing of fifth and the same for overall standings. Blais was hurt early on by a mechanical problem during Stage 2 that cost him 20 minutes of repair time. He rebounded with a runner-up spot the next day so if the KTM 660 Rally pilot can find that fire again it could be enough to catapult him into a podium spot before the rest day on Jan. 13. He's only three seconds behind Despres and 9'55 separates him from Casteu in third.
Casey McCoy landed in 43rd today on his Pai-Rally American KTM but only dropped one spot in the overall rankings to 34th. He's a hair over 28 minutes outside the top-25 which would be an excellent result for the 39-year-old Californian.
Isidre Esteve Pujol (Gauloises KTM) - Winner, 2nd OA
I'm happy, I set a good pace. The stage was very technical at the start, then quick afterwards. After 60 kilometers I caught up with Coma. Everything went well and the bike was perfect. We made a few adjustments yesterday with David (Casteu) and it was all okay throughout the stage. Tomorrow will be a decisive stage, like all the route through Mauritania.
Marc Coma (Repsol KTM) - 2nd, 1st OA
Repsol KTM got another Spanish rider inside the top-5 with Jordi Viladoms finishing fourth.
It was a hard stage with a fair bit of mountain riding. It required a lot of physical effort. After that, there were the stones under tires worn by two days of racing - you had to be careful. Today I kept at a normal pace. I opened proceedings for this stage without taking risks and I carried on leading even when Isidre (Esteve) caught up. Our aim was to arrive in Mauritania without having any problems. Tomorrow, it's a different Dakar rally which starts, a hard and decisive race.
Cyril Despres (Gauloises KTM) - 3rd, 4th OA
Today, I kept 2% in reserve as a safety margin, which is what I do usually. After 325 kilometers, that resulted in a gap of five minutes. I don't know if Marc and Isidre are keeping something in reserve, but I really have the impression that they have been very fast over all the Moroccan section of the rally. But I haven't given up hope of winning. Twenty five of the minutes I've lost are due to a broken gear-box and ten minutes are due to the problems of riding in everyone else's dust yesterday. Normally, I would only have lost around ten minutes. I can't believe that I seem to be having all the bad luck, especially since I'm the rider who's being the most careful. For me, there have only been three special stages on the Dakar. The main thing is that physically I feel great.
Jordi Viladoms (Repsol KTM) - 4th, 6th OA
It was all better today. I started in a better position and had fewer problems with the dust. Everything worked well today, but I thing the team can do even better. At any rate, I'm happy to have got through Morocco without any technical or physical problems. What lies in wait for us will determine how the race develops, but personally, I'm confident because I can handle the dunes fairly well. Having a good position is good for the team, because I'm much closer to Marc (Coma).
Stage 5 Results:
The final day in Morocco was a long one. Isidre Esteve Pujol served notice that he wasn't going to give up without a fight.
1. Esteve Pujol, KTM
2. Coma, KTM
3. Despres, KTM
4. Viladoms, KTM
5. Blais, KTM
6. Faria, Yam
7. Lopez, Hon
8. Casteu, KTM
9. Sala, KTM
10. De Azevedo, KTM
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