Despres in control, Holowczyc first
Cyril Despres's 28th stage victory on the Dakar has allowed him to increase his lead over Marc Coma in the general standings. The competition is struggling to keep up with the two champions. In the car race, a special stage win goes to a fourth Mini, the one driven by Krzysztof Holowczyc, who picks up his first ever stage triumph on the Dakar.
As the saying goes, two's a company, three's a crowd, and the Dakar seems to prefer duos. Between Cyril Despres and Marc Coma, the battles are always intense. Their virtuosity behind the handlebars is starting to significantly distance them from their challengers. The bad weather conditions that forced the organisers to shorten the day's special also prevented Despres from making a genuine breakaway in the dunes near Fiambala. However, he was able to add 1'41” to his lead over Coma, by triumphing after 185 kilometres of tracks and river beds which he mostly tackled just behind his rival and, nonetheless, team-mate. In the general standings, the distance of 9'50” at which the title holder finds himself is not an insurmountable obstacle, bearing in mind that Coma is capable of resounding feats. Behind the duo, the gap is imposing, however, and is growing every day by approximately ten minutes.
Frans Verhoeven, who had managed to stay at a pace almost comparable to the two leading men, only lasted around fifty kilometres before stopping due to mechanical problems. The Dutchman was able to resume the race, but the time lost has probably damaged his objective of a Top 5 finish. For the moment, Helder Rodrigues remains the most regular pursuer, but is still 47 minutes behind. Having managed to hang in there after a catastrophic stage yesterday, Joan Barreda still has the profile of a possible special stage winner: he has shown once again, by achieving the day's 3rd best time, that his efforts pay off occasionally. The same is also true for Stefan Svitko, who finished 4th on the special stage, 13'05” behind Despres.
A stage victory, a first step to joining the club of competitors to take note of, was probably one of the intermediate goals of Krzysztof Holowczyc. The Polish driver, who just missed out twice already this year, deprived of a triumph in Santa Rosa by Novitskiy and in San Juan by Roma, was rewarded for his consistency by a prestigious stage victory on exiting the dunes around Fiambala. In the X-Raid team, four of the five Minis taking part have won a stage! Today's triumph could have gone to a Hummer, however. Robby Gordon and Nasser Al Attiyah continue to blow hot and cold over the race. Gordon finished the stage only 1'01” behind Holowczyc and is the leading pursuer of the Minis, with his 4th place in the general standings, 13'32” behind Peterhansel. As for Nasser Al Attiyah, he achieved the best intermediate times on the stage, only to be stopped by a broken coolant inlet pipe on his radiator. He is now eighth in the general standings, but this does not mean that the Qatari driver has finished putting on amazing displays.
Orlando Terranova is also capable of putting on a show and proved this fact yesterday with the second best time. However, his performance behind the scenes was much less glorious. After a long argument with his co-pilot in the evening, the Argentinean proved to be intransigent and inflexible, making any reconciliation impossible: “Andy Grider wasn't treated with any respect at all and he left. I've never seen anything like it; it's just crazy,” explains Jean-Marc Fortin, the Team Overdrive boss. As a result, Toyota Hilux No. 308 did not take starter's orders this morning. These types of trials and tribulations are unlikely to happen with Giniel De Villiers, who lost a good quarter of an hour in the dunes, but who hung on to fourth place in the general standings, 21'01” behind “Peter”.
In the quad category, there was a third consecutive Argentine stage victory. Marcos Patronelli, winer of the rally in 2010, beat his brother Alejandro, the title holder, by less than two minutes and Tomas Maffei by 4'08”. Only Lucas Bonetto got anywhere near the infernal trio but finished the day's special stage 26'41” behind. In the general standings, the three riders are all alone out in front and outright victory, unless there are major mishaps, will be settled between Maffei, today leader by 35 seconds, and Alejandro as well as Marcos, who is in third, only by 2'04”'.
Today, the closest battle was in the truck category, between Gerard De Rooy and Ales Loprais. The trend apparent between the start of the rally continued: the Argentine tracks smile on the Dutch clan. De Rooy won his third stage this year, with a lead of only 14” over his Czech rival. Behind them, Miki Biasion and Hans Stacey were again the quickest, doing just enough to feature in the day's standings ahead of the Kamaz trucks driven by Nikolaev and Ardavichius.