Dakar: Stage five report

A three man battle Cyril Despres (KTM -- no. 1) has recorded his second scratch time on the Euromilhoes-Lisboa-Dakar, by overtaking his rivals Marc Coma (KTM -- no. 2) and Isidre Esteve (KTM -- no. 3) at the head of the race. In the...

A three man battle

Cyril Despres (KTM -- no. 1) has recorded his second scratch time on the Euromilhoes-Lisboa-Dakar, by overtaking his rivals Marc Coma (KTM -- no. 2) and Isidre Esteve (KTM -- no. 3) at the head of the race. In the cars, Stephane Peterhansel (MIT -- no. 300) clocked the best time to get back within a more reasonable distance of Carlos Sainz (VW -- no. 307) before entering Mauritania. In the trucks, Chagin continues to rule the roost.

The victory clinched by Cyril Despres, ahead of Marc Coma and Isidre Esteve, has stoked the debate on who will prevail overall. With one third of the rally's specials now contested, a multi-tiered elite is emerging in the bike race. The first three in the day's stage are the only real contenders for the Dakar title. Their driving technique places them almost out of reach on the track and the tactical sense they're developing testifies to their awareness of the situation. They are riding both more powerfully and more delicately than the others, and they know their respective value. The race circumstances, physical resilience or sheer talent will make the difference.

A reversal of the current situation could easily occur at any moment. For even on a stage that seemed cut and dried in advance, two of them have experienced mishaps that could easily have assumed more serious proportions. After setting out in fourth position, Cyril Despres committed an error of navigation that required him to make a U-turn, losing around three minutes in the process. This setback may not have prevented Despres from passing De Gavardo (KTM -- no. 4) and clocking up the best time at CP 1, but it could have been more costly. Isidre Esteve, meanwhile, was let down by his rear brake at the 50-km mark, which left him unable to maintain a very high pace. On different terrain, this type of handicap could allow one of these rivals to push it to the limit. Be that as it my, the pursuit work put in by Cyril Despres paid off today, with the three riders coming together at CP2 (229 km). They proceeded to ride almost together for the remaining 131 kilometers, with no serious attempts at going on the offensive. Consequently, the best time goes to Despres ahead of Coma, who stays top of the overall ranking with a 1'25' lead over the title holder and an advantage of 6'28'' on Esteve.

Where the other pursuers are concerned, the horizon starts to look considerably barer, since the 4th-placed De Gavardo does not have full power within his team, just like Andy Caldecott (KTM -- no. 10), who will also be hit by a penalty for missing a compulsory passing point. David Fretigne (YAM -- no. 12), who is hampered by a knee injury, appears to be still limited by the potential of his Yamaha 450 cm3 compared with the KTMs. Within this extensive group of outsiders, the temperament of David Casteu (KTM -- no 8) is paying dividends in what is his first Dakar as an official driver: he currently lies in 6th position overall. Lastly, the surprise debutant Ruben Faria (KTM -- no. 160), victorious on home turf in the second Portuguese special, continues to impress by retaining a Top 10 place as the contest hots up.

In the car race, the hierarchy is far from clearly established. "VW" days are followed by "Mitsu" days, the outsiders from the Schlesser stable are getting in on the act, and the big names are having their flaws exposed in turn. The first eight in the overall ranking finished less than five minutes apart in the day's stage and Stephane Peterhansel, momentarily demoted from this close-knit elite, is preparing to rejoin the group without delay. His demonstration of the day between Ouarzazate and Tan Tan, the day after a nightmare performance that cost him 17 minutes on Sainz, served as a timely assurance of his determination.

Having set out in 14th place, the Dakar victory record-holder partially bridged the gap between him and the leading bunch. During the 350 kilometers of special, he retrieved the situation in such a way that the Mauritanian confrontation with Volkswagen will be more even. It also provided a snapshot of this duel of the manufacturers that is unfolding at the race's lead. Between CP1 and CP2, Luc Alphand lapped both Thierry Magnaldi and Carlos Sainz, who had also suffered a puncture. The former skiing world champion and the ex-rally world champion seemed even in driving terms. Alphand is also still the best representative of the "Mitsu" clan overall, 3rd, 2' behind Sainz.

In the truck category, the suspense is much less intense, with Vladimir Chagin making it five out of five stage victories on the rally and increasing his overall lead over Karel Loprais to 1h31'47''. Moreover, the Czech "danger" is even less alarming, as Firdaus Kabirov, Chagin team-mate, is slowly but surely catching up with him: there is currently a gap of less than one minute between the two trucks. Add to that the abandonment of Miki Biasion, who did not have time to repair his Iveco before the start of the special, and Chagin can afford to start feeling quietly confident.

-dakar.com-

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Series Dakar
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Luc Alphand , Stéphane Peterhansel , Cyril Despres , Karel Loprais , Marc Coma , David Fretigne , Firdaus Kabirov , Andy Caldecott , David Casteu , Thierry Magnaldi