Two days from the arrival in Dakar just as the rally was entering Senegal, the motorbike race was hit by another bombshell with Marc Coma's serious crash after only 57 kilometres of the special stage. The leader of the general rankings since the...
Two days from the arrival in Dakar just as the rally was entering Senegal, the motorbike race was hit by another bombshell with Marc Coma's serious crash after only 57 kilometres of the special stage. The leader of the general rankings since the first Moroccan stage suffered a head injury after hitting a tree. Cyril Despres takes over as race leader. In the car race, Stéphane Peterhansel maintained his presence at the top of the general rankings without slacking off: he finished 2nd, 26'' behind Sainz, who won his fourth special of the year today.
Marc Coma finally made a mistake. Amongst all the challengers for overall victory, he stood out due to his assurance. On the day he stormed the general rankings, between Er Rachidia and Ouarzazate, he put a distance of around thirty kilometres between him and his rivals, giving a feeling that he was in total control. An iron fist in a velvet glove, in a way, just like the rest of the rally-raid season in which Coma won the five races in which he took part. He controlled his lead in the general rankings with the same ease right the way through Mauritania. Whilst Despres and Esteve struggled with an epidemic that affected the gear-boxes of the KTM 690, he mysteriously avoided contamination.
There was, however, a flaw in the almost perfect plan designed to lead Marc Coma to a second overall Dakar victory. After around fifty kilometres of the special, the Catalan was first seen to blatantly lose his way. Several minutes later, he it a tree stump on a parallel track six kilometres away from the ideal route and was thrown against a tree. A moment's uncertainty or hesitation was all that was required to put paid to his adventure. Left initially groggy stood next to his bike, Coma soon gave into the effects of his head injury and lost consciousness. After a few minutes, he was picked up by a medical team helicopter. At the bivouac, the doctors checked over the title-holder, who had by then regained consciousness, before evacuating him to the hospital in Dakar for further examinations.
Cyril Despres, who started out today tailing Coma by almost an hour, inherits the uncomfortable position of general rankings leader by default, in tandem with setting the best time of the day on the special. The Frenchman, who didn't need this unfortunate event to remind him of the stakes involved in the forthcoming final days of the race, indeed lost more than forty minutes last year between Tambacounda and Dakar, the stage which is on the programme for tomorrow. He does not have as much of a lead over Casteu, who is now 35'28'' behind Despres. Finally, Catalonia was also hit by the Isidre Esteve's crash just before CP1: still able to ride, he awaited his assistance truck to repair his bike and set off again toward Tambacounda.
The car race did not experience such radical changes, with leader Stéphane Peterhansel even increasing his lead two days away from the finishing line. Yesterday, the winner in 2005 had lost more than 3' on his rival in the Mitusbishi team, Luc Alphand. Today, he got his own back on his countryman. The title-holder, probably bearing in mind the advice from team manager Dominique Seriyes to be cautious, finished the special stage slightly in front of his team-mate, recording the 6th best time of the special stage, 4'46 behind Peterhansel. The Mitsubishi drivers, who have not yet picked up a stage victory on this Dakar, could well return home with nothing in terms of special stage victories, but will be perfectly happy with the first two steps on the podium on the shores of the Pink Lake, unless there is an unpredictable but possible change in the situation.
Carlos Sainz, on the other hand, has a different goal in spite of himself. The proof is his 4th success on his route to Tambacounda. The Spanish driver has equalled his score in 2006. Sainz in his Volkswagen Race Touareg beat Peterhansel by only 26'' whilst Mark Miller finished 3rd, 2'18 behind. The uncertainty over third place somewhat diminished on the laterite tracks of Sénégal. Jean-Louis Schlesser, troubled by Nasser Al Attiyah, took advantage of his rival's gear-box problems to improve his lead, which he increased by 7 minutes. Al Attiyah's fourth place is now even threatened by Mark Miller, currently 8'03 behind him.
Cyril Despres (FRA -- GAULOISES KTM -- Winner)
"It was very difficult to concentrate over the last kilometres. I was thinking to myself, 'there are no other riders around, there is no TV helicopter over me, something must have happened'. It was with huge relief that I learnt at the finish line that Marc (Coma) was OK. Unfortunately I have lost enough friends to know what is important in life..."
"As far as the special is concerned, there was quite a lot of navigation, as you would expect in the African bush. I made a little mistake at km 6 and had then had strong words with myself! After that I settled down and concentrated on riding and navigating as well as I possibly could."
Now we have one special left, from Tambacounda to Dakar, plus the loop around Lac Rose and it is vital that I stay focussed on the job in hand, all the way to the last metre before the finish line. It is a cliché to say it, but as today's events prove, this race is never over until you get right to the end."
David Casteu (FRA - GAULOISES KTM -- 11th)
"Just before I got to CP1 I found Isidre [Esteve], on the ground next to his bike. He asked me what he was doing there, where he was. The bike was damaged and I couldn't repair it. I took him on my bike to CP1 where I knew there was a doctor. When we got there, I gave some money to one of the locals to go with his pick up to fetch the bike. It gave me so many bad memories of last year. I suppose that Isidre went for all-out attack because he needed to for his race and sponsors. I'm 2nd in the general rankings, but today I'm not thinking about that."
Isidre Esteve (Gauloises KTM)
"I started first this morning and was opening the piste. At around km 35 there was a modification to the road book that wasn't too clear. Three times I went down the wrong track and by the time I found my way a lot of other riders past me and I was in their dust. I fell just before the CP1 and damaged my bike quite badly. I thought my race was over but then Marc Coma's bike arrived by helicopter. I asked the officials if I could take some parts and they said 'no problem', so I removed Marc's oil and water radiators and was able to finish. Obviously I am nowhere in the overall results, but I want to ride to Dakar with my team and be able to help Cyril and David if they need me."
Tomorrow the last real stage of the rally 576 km from Tambacounda to Dakar with 225 km of special stage.