"Never say die" Despres claws back two minutes on Coma in Stage 11 of the Dakar
Three times Dakar winner Cyril Despres went all out on Thursday to claw back a couple of vital minutes on overall leader and fellow KTM factory rider Marc Coma to take his third stage victory in this, the 33rd edition of the world's most famous rally. In terms of his career, the stage victory is the 26th in Cyril Despres' remarkable career of racing the Dakar.
While Coma still has a comfortable 15:59 on Despres as the riders go into the final two stages, the Frenchman is wily and experienced enough to know that the race is not over until they cross the line in Buenos Aires. With everything still to play for he continues to attack just as vigorously as Coma defends. Today, as in most other stages the two KTM riders shadowed each other throughout two very long specials, neither conceding time or meters to each other.
Fat lady has not yet sung, Despres says
"If you want to win you have to really try and that is what I am doing," Despres said at the end of Stage 11. "I'm doing everything I can, everything I know. It has to be said it was a superb special. Even if the time wasn't great, it was a pleasure to ride. In 2007 I won two days before the finish, and if I don't have a hope, it's impossible to ride at speeds like that. I'm still hoping and carrying on attacking. With Marc, we both ride KTM bikes and that's an advantage. We're quite close, but for the moment, the fat lady hasn't sung yet. There are still two days left".
Into the penultimate stage tomorrow
As the 9500 km marathon rally that sweeps through Argentina and Chile enters its penultimate stage tomorrow - and with just 96 starters left of the original 186 riders - the 2011 edition is shaping up to be a battle of the KTM titans. Their nearest rival is Chaleco Lopez of Chile who has now slipped back to 49 minutes 24 behind Coma. Their efforts underline how close these two riders are in tactics, skill and courage and their performance is particularly rewarding as they have launched the new KTM 450 Rally bike with tremendous flair. The Austrian brand developed the bike after Dakar organizers introduced a rule in mid 2009 that blocked the professional level riders from competing on bike bigger than 450 ccm. It was a surprise move that had all the characteristics of trying to block the continued success and domination of the Austrian brand. Should either Coma or Despres be first across the line in Buenos Aires, it will be KTM's 10th successive title, six of which would have been delivered by these two exceptional riders. Thursday's top results and indeed the overall standings are now also heavily populated with KTM riders.
A controlled race from the Spaniard Coma
For his part, Marc Coma stayed cool and concentrated on riding a controlled race and sticking close on the wheel of his rival to ensure that Despres did not break away and steal more time from his advantage. If he triumphs in this year's rally he and Despres will each have three Dakar titles to their credit.
Long two part special
The 11th special on Thursday, a long rider of 622 km, of which 160 was neutralized, continued to test the riders' technical skills by offering a variety of terrain. Despres went all out to regain time lost after several days where his path seemed to be strewn with misfortune. While he and Coma were battling it out in the early stages, at one stage it looked like "Chaleco" Lopez may take the stage. The Chilean had the best time at the neutralized zone but then made a navigation error in the second half of the special that allowed the two KTM riders to regain control and battle it out for the stage honors.
The penultimate stage from San Juan to Cordoba is a 123 km link and 555 km special that kicks off with a challenging 100 km of sand track.