Despres and Peterhansel on the edge of glory
Hélder Rodrigues may have taken his first stage victory in the 2012 Dakar, but Cyril Despres was the real winner of the 13th special. Despres took advantage of Marc Coma's gearbox problems, with the Catalan leading the field and under pressure, to claw back 12'38". Just 24 hours away from the end of the race in Lima, he seized the overall lead with an 11'03" margin over the Catalan. Today was an eventful day for the leaders in the car category, with Nani Roma getting stuck and Robby Gordon's car doing a somersault. Once again, Stéphane Peterhansel thrived in difficult conditions and took his third stage win in 2012. He now leads the overall classification with a 42'57" margin.
Rodrigues for the honour, Despres for the win... France's Cyril Despres produced today's star performance, taking advantage of his fourth place in the field and the pressure on Marc Coma, who led the field today and had gearbox problems from km 25 onwards. The rider who lives in Andorra soon overtook the three pilots ahead of him and took Hélder Rodrigues on his wheel. He piled the pressure on the Catalan and forced him to attack with broken 2nd and 3rd gears, eventually "cracking" him when Coma got lost at km 207. As a result, Rodrigues took his first win in 2012 (fifth career win at the Dakar), while Despres finished second, 47" behind the Portuguese rider but 12'38" ahead of Coma...
With only 29 kilometres to go in the last special on Sunday, Cyril Despres climbed back to the top of the overall classification and will be able to take things carefully in the last stage thanks to his 11'03" margin over the Catalan. Coma is expected to replace his engine this evening, which entails a 45-minute penalty. Behind him, today's winner Hélder Rodrigues all but sewed up his place on the third step of the final podium with a 29'45" lead over Spain's Jordi Viladoms.
Gordon goes too far, Nani gets stuck and Peter consolidates his lead... Robby Gordon was on the attack from the very beginning of today's special in an attempt to prove his sheer power once again. But when you try too hard, you often end up making mistakes, and Gordon was no exception! He first lost several minutes on the dunes at km 182, but this only made him angrier and more eager to prove how fast he is! As a result, the Hummer flew over a dune 22 kilometres later and did a somersault Gordon was able to continue... after losing over 36 minutes!
The area near km 182 was quite tricky, as Spain's Nani Roma learned the hard way. The Catalan driver was stuck for over 25 minutes, until his Portuguese teammate Ricardo Leal dos Santos came to his rescue. He lost 22'57" to today's winner, no other than overall leader Stéphane Peterhansel! The Frenchman thrived in difficult conditions once again and made the most of his experience to avoid all the traps in the special. This earned him his 59th stage win at the Dakar (all categories included), 8'29" ahead of ever-consistent Giniel de Villiers and 12'55" ahead of his Russian teammate Leonid Novitskiy.
The nine-time winner of the rally in the car and motorcycle categories now leads the overall classification with a 42'57" margin over his Spanish teammate Nani Roma and 1 h 15'09" over South Africa's Giniel de Villiers, whose gamble with Toyota is paying dividends. Behind them, Leonid Novitskiy took advantage of Gordon's aerial acrobatics to move up to fourth, 7'09" ahead of the American.
In the quad category, the Patronellis probably took things carefully in the last big special, but their most consistent rival, Tomás Maffei, was no undeserving winner. He took his 3rd scratch this year and confirmed his potential. Just like Sergio La Fuente, who slipped in between the Argentineans to take second in today's stage. He had already finished second on the occasion of his double whammy in the first two stages, as well as in the Atacaman loop stage around Copiapó. Although this last battle did not change the status quo in the final classification (Alejandro and Marcos Patronelli, followed by Maffei), it did reveal who the contenders will be at the next Dakar.
Finally, in the truck category, Russia's Andrey Karginov seized his second stage win. The 12th rider to start this morning (after yesterday's mishaps) beat Brazil's André de Azevedo by 20'14" and the Netherlands' Hans Stacey by 22'09. The Dutchman was shadowed by his teammates Miki Biasion and Gerard de Rooy. No changes in the overall classification, where Gerard de Rooy still leads with a 53'16" margin over Stacey. Kazakhstan's Artur Ardavichus, 1 h 48'25" back in third, drove defensively to ensure Kamaz will place at least one of their trucks on the final podium of the 2012 edition.