The Gauloises KTM crew had a lot of success on Stage 7 with a victory by Cyril Despres and third-place finish by David Casteu.
Day 7 was supposed to get underway right away with a miniscule 4 km connection that launched competitors directly into a 542 km special followed by a brief 34 km cool-down to arrive in Atar. Unfortunately, that wasn't exactly the case as a severe sandstorm grounded the safety helicopters and forced the stage to be shortened. Riders were cut short between CP1 and CP2 where visibility had reduced to dangerously low levels.
Cyril Despres tossed caution into the win as he raced his Gauloises KTM across the dunes to a win in the abbreviated stage and a time of 4:30'42. Norwegian Pal Anders Ullevalseter finished 2'46 behind for his first podium finish. The strong placing resulted in a jump from 13th to ninth overall. David Casteu also visited the box for the first time almost two minutes behind the Norwegian.
Overall leader, Marc Coma clocked a 4:43'04 good enough for sixth, but retains over 10 minutes on Isidre Esteve Pujol in the championship race. Yesterday's winner, Jordi Viladoms will have to relish in his one stage win because a crash today left him with a broken arm and forced his withdrawal.
With the exception of Chris Blais' horrific Day 2, this stage was his worst placing yet as he sailed in at 12th. The Red Bull KTM rider must not have had enough time to get in his groove because the speedy Despres was able to overcome a nearly 10-minute deficit and surpass Blais in the overall standings. The two have swapped places with the American now trailing fourth-place Despres by 21 minutes.
Casey McCoy finished 56th today and holds down 33rd in the overall standings.
Cyril Despres (Gauloises KTM) - Winner, 4th OA
Of course it was a great day, but my enthusiasm is a bit undermined. Ok I gained 10 minutes back but I might have gained 10 more if the special stage had been run in full. So it's a pity. There was a lot of navigating this morning and I think that Marc and Isidre must have made a mistake. I don't really think it was an advantage to start later because with the strong wind all the tracks were completely blurred and therefore very hard to follow. By the way, from the beginning, I chose to do my own navigation and it worked out pretty well as I don't seem to have made the same mistake as they did. On the rims of the dunes, the sand was very soft and I got stuck three times when coming down from the dunes, precisely where you are supposed to gather speed again. Now I still believe in my chances, because today I could catch up a little in the ranking. I stayed on until the rest day and I do not feel physically tired at all. I just need to shave because it's getting itchy under the helmet.
Pal-Anders Ullevalseter (KTM) - 2nd, 9th OA
KTM support crews are always in a hurry to make sure they can help the riders as well as keep their fellow chase vehicles on the move.
A good stage even if after 5km I made a navigation mistake. Fortunately, Despres passed me and I spent my day at his pursuit up to the finish. It is by the way not easy to follow him because he is very fast when it gets tough. Today, we had everything: camel grass, navigation, sand and sometimes extremely bad visibility. It is the fifth time I finish second of a special stage. I hope I will be finishing first very soon.
David Casteu (Gauloises KTM) - 3rd, 3rd OA
If you had told me a few years ago that I would be at the rest day fighting for a place in the top three, I would have found it unbelievable. But this is exactly what is happening now! Not so long ago, I was just doing the Dakar as a privateer with no assistance, a couple of spare wheels and a set of underpants for a week! This morning, we had to navigate and it was quite difficult. Because of the sandstorm, there was something like a very thick fog, like the ones you can have some mornings in France. Not only do you not see a thing, but it is also very hard to trust the road book in these circumstances. For instance, if the book says there is a mountain to follow, we can't see it when visibility is nil beyond 100 m. So we have to navigate on course like seamen do.
Marc Coma (Repsol KTM) - 6th, 1st OA
It was a very hard stage with a lot of navigation and very harsh weather conditions with sandstorms and very low visibility. In this stage, there was absolutely everything: stones, stone tracks, sand tracks, dunes. It was really varied. What matters in such cases, it to know how to adapt to any kind of change. Our aim in the team was to reach the rest day with no harm. The withdrawal of Jordi (Viladoms) is a real pity. When it happened, we were not going too fast. The rest day will mainly allow our machines to have a break but I'd rather have gone on to keep the pace of the race.
Francisco Lopez (Honda) - 8th, 7th OA
In this race, things must be done quietly with great calm. I am used to 5 to 6-day races where I give all I have each and every day. If I do the same in the Dakar, either I or my machine will break down at stage 10 or 11. Today, I did it again: around km 330, I got lost but it only cost me a few minutes. I am happy to be leader of the 450 category for my first Dakar but it is not an end in itself. I make my own race. My main aim is to get to the end, and to come back stronger and more experienced next year.
Stage 7 Results:
The route was cut short today due to blinding sandstorms.
1. Despres, KTM
2. Ullevalseter, KTM
3. Casteu, KTM
4. Sala, KTM
5. Esteve Pujol, KTM
6. Coma, KTM
7. Vinters, KTM
8. Lopez, Hon
9. Bethys, Hon
10. Rodrigues, Yam
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