Chagin is untouchable, Coma is within touching distance
Pride of place went to the trucks today, as they opened proceedings for the 12th day of the Personal Argentina Chile Dakar 2011. Like the day before, Chagin won to close in on his 7th title on the Dakar. The bike race was dominated by Marc Coma in spite of a last hurrah from a Cyril Despres hungry for time to regain. The Catalan biker wins his 5th special of the year and has a lead of more than 16 minutes in the general standings.
For this penultimate stage between San Juan and Cordoba, the organisers decided to send the trucks out first along a shorter route than the other competitors, covering the second half of the car, bike and quad special, for a total distance of 318 km. Just like the two previous days, Vladimir Chagin reigned supreme over the rest of the field. The Russian Kamaz driver picked up his 7th stage victory in 2011 and the 63rd of his career on the Dakar. Today, Chagin beat his team-mate Firdaus Kabirov by 1'05 and Spaniard Pep Vila (Iveco-De Rooy) by a little less than 5 minutes.
As a result, Chagin closes in on his 7th title. In the general standings, the "Tsar" possesses a very significant lead that stands at more than half an hour over Kabirov. The two men are followed by two other Kamaz drivers, Nikolaev, nearly 3 hours behind, and Mardeev, more than 5 and a half hours behind.
It was with the bit between his teeth and well aware that today would probably be his last chance that Cyril Despres set off this morning. With the disadvantage of opening the road, the KTM biker still manage to produce a festival of riding. His lead over the general standings leader Marc Coma even reached more than 2'30 after 240 km. Perhaps the Frenchman had in mind the misfortune suffered by the Catalan who lost everything in the space of a second whilst leading the race in 2007, hitting a tree near Tambacounda two days before the end of the rally.
However, there were no mishaps for Coma today. The general standings leader rode a clean special, looking after his machine and avoiding navigation errors before attacking on the stage's finish. As a result, the Spaniard made up for the time lost to Despres and won the special, his 5th since the start of the rally. It is his 16th stage triumph on the Dakar, one more than the late and lamented Richard Sainct. Behind this elite pair, Helder Rodrigues limited the damage in third position, more than 8 minutes behind the day's winner.
The other notable performance of the day came from American Quinn Cody on his Honda 450. The leading "rookie" on the Dakar picked up a fine 5th place just behind "Chaleco" Lopez. In the general standings, Marc Coma now holds a lead of 16'36 over Despres, nearly 1 hour over Lopez and 1 hour 42 minutes over Rodrigues.
In the car race, the special leading to Cordoba was the opportunity for Carlos Sainz to bounce back after his disappointments the day before. Third in the general standings after ripping off the front right wheel of his Volkswagen yesterday on the way to San Juan, the man from Madrid set off in 14th position this morning. The two times WRC champion overtook 10 competitors in the mud caused by a violent storm during the night. After the section neutralised by the organisers over 61 km near the end of the special, due to the poor state of the terrain, "El Matador" continued his sterling performance. In spite of a puncture, he crossed the finishing line with a lead of 2'43 over his team-mate Giniel De Villiers and 6'11 over the general standings leader, Nasser Al Attiyah. As a result, Sainz draws level with Stephane Peterhansel for the record number of stage victories in the car category, with 23 wins.
At 40 years old, Nasser Al Attiyah is readying himself to win his very first Dakar. The Qatari, less wild than in recent years, handled the race like a past master following Sainz's setbacks yesterday. In the general standings, Al Attiyah now has a lead of 48'21 over De Villiers and 1 hour and 21 minutes over Sainz, who in turn strengthens his third place. Stephane Peterhansel, on the attack from the start to try and climb on to the podium, ended up suffering again. The BMW X-Raid driver had two new punctures and an over-heating engine after damaging his radiator. The Frenchman finished in 4th place today and occupies the same position in the general standings.
Behind Alejandro Patronelli, who is protecting his lead in the general standings, and Sebastian Halpern, the 2nd placed rider 58 minutes behind, the battle for third place in the quad category probably reached its end today, with the stage victory of Christophe Declerck. The Frenchman distanced Lukasz Laskawiec by 3'19" and consolidates his third place a little more, improving the gap that yesterday only stood at 47 seconds.