No more cat and mouse, Despres says after Stage Nine of the Dakar
When the Dakar riders attacked their last full day in the Atacama Desert on Tuesday, organizers had promised that the 235 km timed loop course from Copiapo to Copiapo was likely to trick even the best. At the end of an obviously frustrating day of navigation, KTM factory rider Cyril Despres, seventh in the stage remarked that he was "fed up with the cat and mouse game".
Despres at seventh, his arch rival Marc Coma, leader in the standings in ninth place, their co-riders Ruben Faria and Juan Pedrero back at 26 and 12: so what happened to the KTM riders who have so far dominated the rally?
Confusion at the start
The top 10 all started together today with the remaining field going off in rows of 20 behind them. After that there was a navigation error and general confusion, according to Despres. "We didn't stay grouped for a long time after the start because at the 17 km point Helder Rodrigues took a wrong direction and we all followed him. So, we turned round and ran straight into the second wave of starters. We were all riding in each other's dust. It was a bit of a strange stage really."
Coma and Despres still lead standings
This incident shook up the standing order on the day but didn't affect the two leaders' position at the front of the standings with the exception that Despres was able to trim the time deficit between him and Coma in the lead by a minute, and between these rivals, that is already something worth noting. At the conclusion of nine of the 13 stages of this more than 9000 km race, Coma leads Despres by 8:14 minutes. Bearing in mind that in the early stages Despres incurred a 10 minute penalty for failing to pass a flag at an early morning start, it is easy to see that when it comes to speed, skills and tactics, there is nothing separating the two.
Difficult day, coma says
Coma agreed that it had turned out to be a difficult day. He said fog and the group start had both made navigation difficult. "The first group got lost," he said. "We turned right, when we shouldn't have. When we got back on track the second wave caught up with us. It was a bit of a mess. After that, a group of around twenty quick riders formed and we managed to ride the rest of the stage normally. But in the end, it was a difficult day."
KTM rival Rodrigues drifts back in the overall standings
Helder Rodrigues, the stage winner at Arica on the northern border of Chile, extracted himself from the navigation difficulties and at one point looked like he was going to steal the stage but then he ran out of fuel at the 225 km mark. This was when American Jonah Street, the eventual stage winner, seized the advantage and was eventually able to convert it into the Stage victory ahead of Belgium's Frans Verhoeven and David Casteu of France, who took the minor places.
Excitement mounting as riders turn towards Argentina
Rodrigues now finds himself still at fourth in the standings but separated from Coma by more than an hour, while the two KTM riders' closest rival remains the wily Chilean, Chaleco Lopez, who after tomorrow loses his home advantage as riders head back over the Andes and into Argentina. All indications are that the 33rd edition of the Dakar will now be a battle of attrition between Coma and Despres right to the finish line in Buenos Aires. Despres is going for his fourth title; Coma his third; KTM its tenth, so excitement is building in the KTM camp and among its supporters.
Tomorrow riders have another long day on the bikes as Stage 10 takes them from Copiapo to Chilecito -- 686 km of road and a short special of just 176 km as they cross back across the Andes and into the hot white dunes of Fiambala.