Mikko Jalonen, Dakar correspondent
The 13th stage must have been an unlucky number for Marc Coma in the 2012 Dakar as Cyril Despres took the Bike overall lead with one stage to go while in Car category; Stephane Peterhansel wins the stage and looks to take his first South American Dakar championship.
The Dakar 2012 Edition will come to an end tomorrow with a 29 km special stage but before the riders and drivers are able to celebrate the end of their two week journey from Argentina to the capital of Peru, their strength and skills were truly tested once more time with strings of dunes and confusing valleys before the beautiful landscape of the Pacific Ocean. Today’s 275 km stage may have finally settled the battle in the Bike category between the title holder Coma, and the challenger Despres, in the favor Frenchman. In this report we take a closer look for how the battle progressed in the stage and what else happened in this demanding 13th stage from Nasca to Pisco.
The main interest has been the battle between Coma and Despres for the Bike race but today the stage winner was neither the Spanish or French rider as the Portuguese Yamaha rider Helder Rodrigues managed to win today’s stage just 47 seconds in front of the KTM rider Despres. Rodrigues has been holding the third place in the Bike overall standings and he took the stage lead after the second checkpoint and didn't made any crucial errors to score his fifth stage win in his Dakar career; it was his first one this year and the first for Yamaha!
“A stage win is always great, and finishing on the overall podium is also cool. I might have been able to perform better in certain stages, but I had a few little problems and it was impossible for me to win. But today I gained some time on Cyril and Marc, I rode very fast. That is good. I may be able to do better next year. We can do it, if we work hard with our team all year round. I may take the new motorcycle. First, I will have to test it, and then we will see,“ said a very delighted, Rodrigues
Second in the Bike category today was the French KTM ace, Despres, who reclaimed his lead in the overall standings. Despres which is now very close to taking his fourth Dakar Bike championship and admitted that today´s stage was psychologically a very tough challenge. “I am not the kind of person who derives pleasure from the problems of teammates, and even less when it is Marc Coma who is in trouble.”
The Frenchman added, “I started with the knife between my teeth, knowing he would do the same thing. I took no risks but tried to gain ground on other riders in turns. At the refueling station I saw I had clawed back 5 minutes from Marc. I then got lost a couple of times; it was never a big problem but I had to stay focused. Today's stage was psychologically very tough. I always wait until the last day to enjoy things. I have seen so many things happen at the Dakar, and even more today. I want to stay calm and enjoy things a bit more.“
Third in today´s special was Jordi Viladoms in a Bordone-Ferrari KTM, 3 minutes slower than Rodrigues. The Spaniard started today’s stage third on the road behind of his countrymen: Coma and Joao Barreda Bort. Viladoms was among the top riders throughout the stage and was doing superb job as the front rider after Bort didn´t turned to the east at the 148 km point of the stage; his error came after Coma had his own problems with navigation at the stage near the 207 km point.
I am disappointed because I was not able to fight until the end.
Coma started today’s special stage with a 1 minute and 35 second advantage over his rival Despres, and now he is 11 minutes from taking his back-to-back title! The 2011 champion has done everything he could to hold the Bike overall lead since the start of this year’s event in Argentina. The two KTM riders came into Dakar as the favourites. Today, Coma again noticed how cruel the Dakar can be. After the 25 km point in the special stage, Coma had the first of two setbacks when he noticed that his gearbox was starting to show signs of a serious problem while his rival had started his own attack to reclaim the lead before the final stage.
But the worse for Coma came when just 20 km past the second checkpoint and by that time, Coma’s overall lead was shrinking from five minutes to just two minutes. The Spaniard made a crucial navigation error and went 2 km too far from the road indicated in the roadbook before returning to the stage behind Viladoms and Barreda Bort. In the end, Coma finished the stage as 13th fastest, 12 minutes and 38 seconds slower than his main rival Despres.
Coma was sure about a retirement through so he was more than happy just to finish the stage, despite being very disappointed to no doubt lose the Dakar championship so close to the finish line. “I started very fast, as fast as I could, because I knew it would be difficult to stay in the lead of the rally. 25 km into the stage I had a mechanical problem which forced me to slow down. It was a gearbox problem and I feared I would not be able to continue. So I am happy to be here, in second position, which is quite good. I fought throughout the entire rally and gave it everything I had got at all times. That is the way it is. I am disappointed because I was not able to fight until the end.“
In the overall standings, Despres now has a comfortable 11 minute lead over Coma while Rodrigues is third about an hour behind and his 30 minutes over the fourth-placed rider Viladoms should be safe for the podium finish. The only possible way Coma can take the title on Sunday is if Despres breaks down or makes a critical error.
In the Car Category, X-raid MINI driver Stephane Peterhansel took an important stage win by 8 minutes and 29 seconds over the Toyota of Giniel de Villiers. Peterhansel has yet to win the Dakar in South America and now he is one step closer for the 2012 Car title. Today, he was able to avoid trouble and after starting today´s special stage as the seventh car on the road, the Frenchman ended up fastest and his overall gap to his teammate Nani Roma has increased.
Peterhansel through doesn´t want to celebrate before the rally is really over. “It was not a stage we were trying to win. First and foremost, we wanted to avoid falling into traps, especially after getting stuck in the sand yesterday. It was the toughest stage of the entire Dakar with regard to the dunes. We made a tactical choice to start with lower-than-normal tyre pressure, so we had to be very careful at certain points, but we did well on the dunes. We were under psychological pressure because we came within an inch of losing the Dakar yesterday. Victories are earned day by day and I still feel like I am in the race. There is still a 30-kilometre special to go and we could have a technical problem. I am still holding my breath this evening. I will breathe again once I am on the podium.” he said.
Second today was the Toyota Hilux driver, de Villiers. The 2009 Dakar Car champion from South Africa is with a new team this year and did get stuck in the dunes today near the 182 km point but he was not the only one and it did not take long to be back on the road. With a good stage today, de Villiers is now in steadily in third place in the overall standings.
“I am happy to finish this special, once again a very difficult stage. We had to stop several times to deflate the tyres. We saw Nani stuck in the sand, just like Robby. We ended up leading the field, we did a good job. If we finish in this position tomorrow it will be like a victory for us. The car proved not just its reliability but also its performance by netting us a podium place,” said de Villiers.
Third in the Car category for a good day of the X-Raid MINI squad was Leonid Novitskiy. The Russian who led the rally after the first day of action but since then has not seen the top 3 before yesterday. Novitskiy, despite starting the stage as the second car behind the Hummer of Robby Gordon, stayed out of trouble and was just under 13 minutes to the his teammate.
Two main items that was important today were the unfortunate problems of both Nani Roma and Gordon. The X-raid MINI driver Roma was the main challenger to his teammate, Peterhansel, before the start of the 13th stage in the overall Car standings, but he feel into the same trap as Gordon and de Villiers by getting stuck at the 182 km point of the stage and lost a lot of time. Roma admitted that the stage wasn´t easy after finishing in seventh place, almost 23 minutes off the quickest stage time set by Peterhansel.
“Today was one of the most difficult stages I have ever experienced. I ended up in a swallow hole trying to avoid a motorcycle rider who fell in front of me. Luckily, Ricardo dos Santos got me out of there, although we were stuck in the hole for quite a while. We are still 22 minutes ahead of Giniel, but he also got stuck in this hole. I later lost some time on a waypoint which I spent a lot of time looking for, which cost me over 12 kilometres. But it was my fault for losing my focus. But we are here, and that is not half bad. This is the Dakar,“ said Roma.
For Gordon the stage was entertaining but even tougher than his rival. After starting the stage as the first due to the stage win yesterday, being the first car on the road wasn´t an easy task for the American to overcome. Gordon started the stage with the aim to win the another special stage, and he led the stage by 8 minutes via live tracking, before getting stuck like most of the drivers. Gordon lost seven minutes. This wasn´t all though when just 20 km later, the Hummer of Gordon had a spectacular somersault at the 202 km point in the stage. Gordon and his co-pilot continued before they were forced to repair a flat tire at the 221 km point of the stage, before actually finishing the stage in 10th place, 36 minutes behind the fastest time.
“I was driving at a high pace when I crossed a dune and suddenly the front of my car crashed into the sand. We were stuck and lost 40 to 45 minutes there. In the meanwhile, Stéphane overtook us and we set off behind him very quickly. Then my car did a somersault, but we put it back on its wheels and continued the special! Incredible! I wanted to beat the Minis with a big margin today. Actually, there was a moment when we were leading them by 30 minutes. At least we had fun,“ Gordon said.
The Car standings prior to the final stage shows Peterhansel with a 43 minute lead over his teammate, Roma who is followed by de Villiers, 1 hour and 15 seconds from Peterhansel and about 30 minutes behind of Roma.
Kamaz Master driver Andrey Karginov set the fastest time in the Truck category. The Russian won his first special stage few days ago and got his revenge from the Iveco team after posting the quickest time to all of the checkpoints today, and therefore finishing ahead of the Tatra of Andre de Azevedo and all the Ivecos.
Brazil's de Azevedo earned a fine second place today by finishing the stage 20 minutes and 14 seconds slower than the Kamaz driver. The Dakar legend, de Azevedo is eighth overall with one stage to go.
Third today was the crew of the Dutchman, Hans Stacey, who was the fastest for the de Rooy team, 22 minutes and 9 seconds slower than Karginov. He was followed by the crew of Miki Biasion, 23:28 minutes slower, and the overall leader Gerard de Rooy who finished the stage over 25 minutes behind the Russian. De Rooy did not have an easy day as he had to be very careful due to problem with the tyre inflation system.
“Today was the toughest stage for me. I tried not to make any mistakes despite being under more pressure than usual. I had problems with my tyres and was unable to inflate them. It was very stressful because we had to be extremely careful with the rocks. I am happy to have made it so far. I had no physical problems this year round, no back pain. I am very happy and we will see what the future has in store for me,” said the overall Truck leader de Rooy.
In the Truck standings going into the last stage, de Rooy holds a 53 minute lead over his teammate, Stacey, and almost 2 hours ahead of Artur Ardavichus in the Astana Kamaz.
In the Quad category, today’s fastest rider was the Argentinean Tomas Maffei followed by the Uruguan quad rider Sergio La Fuente, 7 minutes and 4 seconds slower than Maffei. The stage win was Maffei´s third in this year’s edition of Dakar.
At the finish, Maffei praised the stage as very beautiful. “There is only tomorrow's stage left. And we have reached Lima, which was one of our goals. Today's position is a good one, of course. I am happy. It was a beautiful stage near the sea in which we had to cross very high dunes. Navigating and maintaining a certain pace while riding together is certainly different from riding alone.“ said Maffei who is obviously happy to get for Lima tomorrow,” he said.
La Fuente ended second, and his best finish since he led the rally after the first two stages. After the stage today, La Fuente is fifth overall, more than 8 hours from the first position.
Third today was the first one of the Patronelli brothers, Alejandro lost to the best time today by 8 minutes and 16 seconds. The two brothers from Argentina have been riding together lately and today Alejandro Patronelli lost some time when at the 99 km point in today's stage due to stopping to help his brother Marcos, and once back on the road they were again together.
Alejandro Patronelli will be very happy to finish the rally tomorrow and hopes to have a safe finish with his brother. “You feel good when you reach the finish. There are a 29-kilometre special and two liaisons to go, and then we can think of another Dakar victory. We had to finish today's stage. Everything went OK. I am deeply moved and very happy. If I win tomorrow, this will be a great moment for our family, our team, Argentina and Las Flores. We still have to pray nothing bad will happen during the last special and the two liaisons. The gaps have been made. Everything is perfect,“ he said.
Tomorrow the teams will have a one last stage to finish with a 29 km stage from Pisco to Lima.