Banco for "Chaleco", a depressing day for the X-Raid Team
In a shortened 273 km special stage, Chilean rider Francisco Lopez managed -- with his Aprilia bike -- to achieve best time for the first time this year, which brings him slightly closer to Coma and Despres. It is the third consecutive stage that escapes the two KTM riders... In the car category, Stephane Peterhansel had more trouble with flat tires while Orlando Terranova had to withdraw after somersaulting as Guerlain Chicherit had done the day before. Nasser Al-Attiyah gets closer to Sainz after a 10th stage victory in his Dakar career. Ales Loprais keeps shaking the Kamaz truck domination and achieves a second stage victory in a row.
He sure took his time this year. Since the Dakar has been taking place on home turf, "Chaleco" never waited for too long to thrill his supporters. But this year, victory had so far been eluding the Aprilia leader who nearly won the stage in Iquique finishing right behind Goncalves. This year, Lopez had been feeling so great, easy like never before, for instance with navigation which is normally not his forte. His Italian 450cc having now demonstrated its reliability, both in terms of performance and sturdiness, all the conditions were there to see Lopez roar out of the box. So it is in Antofagasta, one of the cities where he already won honorary citizenship in the past that the man achieved his fifth victory in a Dakar. In order to make sure he would win this one, the Chilean rider was very tidy; he cleared km 176 with more than 4' lead over Coma. Upon arrival, he finished with a 2'21'' margin, a glorious day of fame and a small jump closer to the top of the standings where he is still 3rd, 18'27'' behind the Catalan rider.
The 273 km on the menu of the day did not really change things between both KTM riders, although the day made them both realize the "Chaleco" threat is a pretty serious one. Coma remains in the lead 7'24'' ahead of Despres who closed the gap a bit today. Both men know that such a short lead can be destroyed any day by a mechanical problem or by a dodgy navigation decision. By the way, the gaps separating the winner and second at the end of a Dakar are often more in the vicinity of the hour than of the minute. We have to go back to the 2005 edition of the Dakar to see a title won with a less-than-10-minute lead. A bit further down the ranks, the good news finally came from Pal-Anders Ullevalseter who ended with the 8th fastest time of the day and is back in the Top 10. As for Jonah Street, he is on the way out of the leadership, falling more than an hour behind Coma at CP3 (km 192) after having had to stop for an engine failure. David Casteu is already pretty far down the ranks, but trouble seems to be the daily bread of the Sherco rider, who also had to spend a long time repairing off trail.
Until the rest day, the X-Raid clan was able to see -- with optimism -- that its glass was half full. Unfortunately, bad luck struck repeatedly on Sven Quandt's team, who is probably experiencing his toughest 24 hours as team manager. In Arica, Guerlain Chicherit started by ruining the Mini Countryman he was required to bring to Buenos Aires in one piece. And -- more importantly -- his leader, Stephane Peterhansel seems to be on a downward slope with a new flat tire after just 15 km of racing today. Concerned by the rotten luck and about managing his spare tires, "Peter" drove conservatively and lost another painful 21' to Carlos Sainz in the standings. But the run of misfortunes does not stop there for BMW. Apart from the two punctured tires of Krzysztof Holowcyc, the X3 of Orlando Terranova went off trail and somersaulted after about 200 km of special stage. The Argentine flagship driver in this category, who seemed to be doing pretty well and about to enter and stay in the Top 5, leaves the race before even reentering his home country.
So the tide seems to be turning in favor of the Race Touareg III, who finished the day with the three fastest times of the special stage ... and no flat tires! Nasser Al Attiyah is -- once again, like last year -- in pursuit of Sainz and gaining ground on the Spaniard. Together with his 10th stage victory in a Dakar, the Qatari is now just 1'22'' from first place in the general standings. Giniel De Villiers who is common to the sometimes useful strategy of playing it slow is also getting closer to the podium: he is now only 11' behind Peterhansel and if he were to pass him in the standings, he would be the one providing for a VW treble.
The wind might have turned in the truck category. Ales Loprais and his copilot Josef Kalina -- four-time Dakar winner -- were counting on a psychological trigger to bring trouble into the well-oiled routine of the Kamaz trucks. No one will ever know if the Russian clan is getting panicky but one thing is sure: Loprais is driving with confidence. He crossed the finish line of the Antofagasta stage a winner; this is his second consecutive stage victory in his Dakar career. In the general standings, he gets closer to the top and is now 16'22'' behind Kabirov, who is still leader, and is now in front of Vladimir Chagin by almost the same time. A Czech dream might slowly but surely be coming true...