OK Corral in Iquique
By winning his third stage on the Dakar 2012, 3'54” in front of his main rival Marc Coma, Frenchman Cyril Despres has returned to the top of the general standings on conclusion of the mythical Antofagasta-Iquique stage and now leads the Catalan by 2'28”. As for the cars, after having finished 2nd on the last 3 stages, Robby Gordon finally managed to win a stage on the Dakar 2012, at the end of a day that rhymed with all out attack. In the end, the American won by 1'38” ahead of Stephane Peterhansel, moving back to within 5'58” of the Frenchman in the general standings. The only sour note of the day for Gordon was the withdrawal of his team-mate and the title holder, Nasser Al-Attiyah, leaving Gordon as a lonesome cowboy a long way from home… In the truck race, the 2nd placed driver in the general standings, Czech Alès Loprais, was forced to exit the race.
In the end Cyril Despres only needed a day to brush away the memory of his muddy mishap on the 8th stage. Seventh to get to grips with the day's special, altered to 606 km in length due to weather-related changes to the route, the Frenchman set off at a frightening pace. In the lead at all the day's check points, Despres displayed his talent at high speed to win his 3rd stage on the Dakar 2012 and the man with whom he is the best of enemies, Marc Coma, who finished 2nd today. Hindered by having to open the road, the Catalan nevertheless went out on full attack on both of the day's timed sections, but mainly to limit the damage in the general standings. Indeed, at the end of this very long special stage, all the Spaniard could do was hand back the command of the race to his sole rival, who he now trails by 2'28”… The duel is far from over, though, especially since both riders changed their engines yesterday evening and are therefore equal in strategic terms.
Still just as surprisingly consistent on his 2nd participation, Spaniard Juan Barreda Bort achieved the 3rd best time of the day, 8'28” behind Despres, but more than three minutes ahead of regulars on the event like Helder Rodrigues and Paulo Goncalves. Still in with a shout for the final podium, the two Portuguese riders are now separated by 26'38” in favour of Rodrigues. However, after blowing his engine at the 550-km point of the special stage, David Casteau will have to bid goodbye to the battle for 3rd place.
In the car category, American Robby Gordon finally reacquainted himself with triumph on the Dakar, by winning the 9th stage, 1'38” ahead of general standings leader Stephane Peterhansel. Absorbed in a day-long chase after the American, “Peter” came back to within 19” seconds of the Hummer at CP5 before Gordon put into play the full power of his orange monster over the last 80 kilometres and in particular the infernal final 32%-gradient descent to Iquique. At the end of the day, victory went to Gordon, his 5th stage win on the Dakar, enabling him to get back to within 5'58” of the green Mini in the general standings.
On four wheels, the situation also seems to be heading for a duel, since the 3rd placed finisher on the day, Nani Roma, clocked in more the 8 minutes behind! Taking advantage of a minor crash by Holowzcyc in the last few kilometres, the Spaniard cut the Polish driver's lead in the general standings over him in half. Holowzcyc is still 3rd, but is now only 2'37” ahead of the winner of the Dakar 2004 in the bike category.
In particular, this 9th stage witnessed the exit from the race of title holder Nasser Al-Attiyah! Once again let down by problems with his engine and alternator drive belts, the Qatari finally decided to drop out after 200 km of the day's special stage, leaving Gordon alone against the armada of Minis.
In the quad race, there are the Patronellis… and then there are the others. Whilst the first Argentinean stages seemed to show that the competition was well organised, by the midway point of the rally there is no doubt left. In Iquique, for the 4th day running, the Patronelli brothers were victorious and did not even leave any crumbs of comfort for their rivals. Finishing 44 minutes after the siblings, who rode together throughout the day, Tomas Maffei lost his 2nd place in the general standings, where the gaps have started to grow! As a result, whilst Tomas Maffei trails Alejandro Patronelli by 1 hour and 50 minutes, Casale and Lafuente, respectively 4th and 5th, are 4 hours 7 minutes and 6 hours seventeen minutes behind the leader.
Finally, in the truck race, the bad news came from the camp of Alès Loprais. After taking part in a superb struggle with Gerard De Rooy on the first half of the special, the Czech driver, 2nd in the general standings at the time, was forced to drop out of the race after an accident on the neutralised section of the route. Deprived of his most serious rival, the Dutchman logically eased off during the second timed section to cross the finishing line in 3rd place on the day, behind his faithful lieutenants, Hans Stacey and Miki Biasion. As a result, the Italian won his 2nd stage on the Dakar, 20” ahead of the category winner in 2007. In the general standings, Gerard De Rooy nevertheless comforts his lead and is now 47'32” ahead of his team-mate Hans Stacey and 1:06'40” in front of the first Kamaz driven by Kazakh Artur Ardavichus.