Dakar: Stage seven report

"Peter" The magnificent fiftieth Whereas Cyril Despres seems to have taken care of his injured shoulder, Carlo De Gavardo posted his second consecutive best time of the day. He passed Isidre Esteve and has neared team leader Marc Coma in the ...

"Peter" The magnificent fiftieth

Whereas Cyril Despres seems to have taken care of his injured shoulder, Carlo De Gavardo posted his second consecutive best time of the day. He passed Isidre Esteve and has neared team leader Marc Coma in the overall standings. In the car division, Stephane Peterhansel won a second stage, his 50th on the Dakar. Luc Alphand has moved into the lead of the overall standings. In the truck race, Vladimir Chagin lost time while stuck in the sand but kept his overall leadership.The special was won by Dutchman Hans Stacey.

After the accident and dislocated left shoulder suffered on yesterday's stage by Cyril Despres, the first question to be asked was if he could continue despite the pain. The answer was yes. It was a fair question to ask about his capacity to remain contact with the leaders, and thus about his chances of defending his Dakar title. He has nearly almost no chance, or nearly anyway. Today's stage, which presented a completely different aspect from prior specials because of the inverted starting order, also allowed the riders from the KTM-Repsol team to take command of the race. At least temporarily.

For once, it was an advantage to be at the start as the winner from the day before. In setting off last, Carlo De Gavardo had the possibility of catching up his riding companions from the day before, with whom he sped past the amateurs. The majority of them were careful and resigned, but some couldn't resist the temptation to "ride of the back wheel" of the factory riders, with more or less success. Essentially, the elite had already taken their places at the front before CP1, even though Spain's Gerard Farres was the most resistant riding alongside Marc Coma.

At the end of 499kms of effort, the usual suspects where to be found atop the time sheets, except Cyril Despres, who finished his day in better shape than was expected, but 30'23 adrift Carlo De Gavardo. The strong run for the Chilean was fruitful for several reasons, who added the joy of winning his sixth Dakar stage victory. He overtook Isidre Esteve Pujol for provisional second overall in the standings and is ideally positioned to play the important role of first assistance for team leader, Marc Coma. Jordi Arcarons, KTM-Repsol team manager, the orange version of the Austrian motorcycles, is a leader of a happy bunch of men because the Italian in the group, Giovanni Sala, completed today's podium and has moved into the top five overall, whereas Caldecott is now sixth. Isidre Esteve Pujol is now the lone hope for the KTM-Gauloises for the final victory.

Among the happy team managers, the smile of Dominique Seyries could rival with that of Arcarons in the Atar bivouac. At the end of this major test on Mauritanian soil, the two lead Mitsubishis delivered a major blow. Profiting from a group navigation error, which included most noticeably Jean-Louis Schlesser (SCH-n314) and Giniel De Villiers (VW-n305), from km 100 Stephane Peterhansel and Luc Alphand left behind all of their pursuers. Only Jutta Klienschmidt (VW-n303), who had to stop to repair a puncture, was able to follow the pace set by the two Japanese prototypes. The rest of the Volkswagen team was not having the best of days on the road to Atar. Carlos Sainz (VW-n307), who remained stuck for quite a long period of time before CP1, lost 34'44" compared to Peterhansel. Mark Miller (VW-n309) and Bruno Saby (VW-n301), the first due to a rollover, the second with mechanical difficulties, lost dozens of minutes on more than one occasion.

The poor performance were not limited just to the German squad because Jean-Louis Schlesser, who is now a regular fixture among the top runners, lost 1h14' to "Peter", while Magnaldi (SCH-n315), yesterday's winner, dropped 1h41'! The raid of the Mitsubishis, which has squelched just a bit the capability of Volkswagen being a nuisance as Lake Rose nears, also sets the table for a stout internal battle between Peterhansel and Alphand. With today's win, the defending titleholder equals the record of Ari Vatanen with 50 stage victories and can now view Alphand as a serious rival. While the former skier has yet to win a single stage on the Euromilhoes-Dakar, he still leads the overall standings by 3'12 from "Peter". Despite the respect he has for his team mate it is not enough to scare Alphand, who can now wait and see, because now he is in control.

In the truck division, it is now assured that Vladimir Chagin, winner of the first six stages, will not complete the grand slam on the 2006 Dakar. Stuck in the sand at km 290 for a very long period of time, the four-time winner of the event gave back one hour at CP2 to team mate and second in the overall standings, Firdaus Kabirov. On the finish line of the special, Hans Stacey (MAN -- n524) clocked the fastest time, without however changing the positions in the overall. After learning a lesson when he disastrously ran out of fuel, which most likely cost him victory in 2005, "The Tsar" was very wise, indeed, to have built up a two hour lead before having his major difficulty.


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Series Dakar
Drivers Mark Miller , Carlos Sainz , Luc Alphand , Jean-Louis Schlesser , Stéphane Peterhansel , Ari Vatanen , Cyril Despres , Giovanni Sala , Bruno Saby , Marc Coma , Isidre Esteve , Jordi Arcarons , Vladimir Chagin , Firdaus Kabirov , Hans Stacey , Gerard Farres