Nancy Knapp Schilke, Dakar correspondent
"Chaleco” forced to leave Dakar due to injury
Francisco Lopez hails from Chile and today was looking forward to the first stage of the 2012 Dakar in his homeland. The winner of the first stage (Argentina) has been diagnosed with a severe sprain on his right knee and on the advice Dr. Radice from the Clinica Las Condes; Lopez has officially withdrawn from the race.
"Chaleco” was in hopes that he would be able to spend the rest day recuperating but the fall he took at the 80km mark was in today’s longest stage since the Argentina-Chile-Peru rally-raid started but he mustered on and did finish the stage, 30 minutes behind stage winner, Marc Coma.
I am not able to put the leg on the ground.
“My Dakar finishes today,” said Lopez. “I'm in pain and I am not able to put the leg on the ground, but I will be fine in two or three weeks. I would like to thank all people who have supported me, starting from Aprilia that gave me a truly competitive bike.”
Indeed “Chaleco” did have a competitive ride with Aprilia. He surprised many when he took the first stage victory. Lopez spent most of the 2011 rally-raid season recovering from a fall he took in May of 2011 at the Rally of Tunisia which was far more serious. “Chaleco” underwent six surgical operations to repair 11 fractured bones.
This was his fifth Dakar and he finished third last year behind the KTM dominating riders, Marc Coma and Cyril Despres. He was not 100% positive that he would be able to take on the Dakar challenge so Lopez entered the Pharaons Rally event which, like Rally Tunisia, is one of the FIA Cross Country Rally events. His goal was to “recapture his competiveness” and of course to at least finish on the podium this year.
However, he did make his comeback by taking the first stage win and he was fourth; albeit with a lot of ground to make up, when he took the fall today. It is remarkable that he even finished the 419km special stage which was a loop of Copiapo. Lopez retired today from the 2012 Dakar but he leaves after pocketing his sixth Dakar stage victory on January 1st, 2012,
"Chaleco” will keep up the good fight and there is no doubt that he will rally back and return to rally-raid action, including the 2013 Dakar!