Coma and Al Attiyah closing in
On the long special of the day, Marc Coma was victorious for the 12th time in his career on the Dakar. Cyril Despres holds on to the race lead by a small margin, whereas outsiders Paulo Goncalves and Olivier Pain did their chances a whole world of good. Carlos Sainz held onto the lead in the car category, despite the stage victory of Nasser Al-Attiyah, who only slightly closed in on the Spaniard. Vladimir Chagin scored the 58th stage victory of his career on the Dakar as his Kamaz took command in the general standings.
The sharp increase in mileage to be covered thrust the Dakar riders into a new dimension of the race. The change in terrain, demanding more subtle navigational skills than on the last two stages, gave rise to a number of different scenarios. Cyril Despres, for example, who had distanced his rivals in an unruffled manner up to this point, lost a significant part of his lead due to several mistakes at the start of the day. After 113 km of racing, the title holder found himself even more than 4' behind the BMW belonging to Goncalves, the quickest rider at CP1. Always discrete but always there, Marc Coma took on the role of opening the road. Well versed in this honour, he did a very efficient job and picked up his 12th stage victory on the Dakar in San Salvador de Jujuy, ahead of Cyril Despres. The Frenchman, who managed to make up some of the time lost during the second part of the day, held on to his position as leader of the general standings. However, with the Catalan closing in, the two rivals are almost level-pegging: they are separated by merely 14 seconds.
Coma was not the only beneficiary of the day's battles. Paulo Goncalves, third-placed 3'36" behind the stage winner, moves up a rank with his fine performance. The Portuguese rider is now 4th in the general standings. The progress of Olivier Pain is even more noteworthy. He had targeted this stage as a potential target for his first victory on the Dakar. In the end, the Yamaha rider finished fourth today, but moved from 11th place to 6th in the general standings. The youngest of the genuine pretenders for the Top 5 places even managed to overtake Francisco "Chaleco" Lopez, who lost 13 minutes today and now lies in 7th, already 18' behind Coma.
The Argentineans are in the process of taking over the quad race in which Josef Machacek, the leader at the start of the stage, lost a serious amount of time. On completion of the 521 kilometres, a newcomer to the Dakar, Tomas Maffei, obtained the best time, in front of Sebastian Halpern and Alejandro Patronelli. The day's three quickest riders also make up the provisional podium in the general standings and are only separated by little more than a minute.
The car race also witnessed a new stage winner who seems to have set the ball rolling to regain ground lost previously. Nasser Al-Attiyah knows better than anyone the cost of seconds and minutes on the Dakar. He surely thought it was vital to go and grab some as soon as the opportunity came knocking. On the roads to Jujuy, the Qatari set off behind Sainz, winner of the first two stages, then soon caught up with the Spaniard's dust cloud without ever being able to overtake his rival. Although he complained that his engine was lacking power, Al Attiyah especially came up against the Sainz's capacity of resistance, skilful enough to break away in the canyons as in the forests. At the finishing line, Al Attiyah's Race Touareg had only gained 25" over Sainz in his pursuit. He also triumphed for a ninth time on a Dakar stage, though this could transform into a trap tomorrow when he will have to open the road in front of his team-mate.
Stephane Peterhansel lost his second place to Al Attiyah, although at the wheel of his BMW X3, he is still in a position to ambush at the slightest opportunity. Only 59" behind Al Attiyah today, the Frenchman's setback was only a minor one, though he now finds himself trailing Sainz by 4'19". With another grouped finish, the X-Raid drivers continue to justify their ranking. Behind Peterhansel, former winner Giniel De Villiers is driving a good race and remains in 4th (16'57" behind Sainz), but the ambitious Krzysztof Holowczyc, 4th on today's stage, is only 5 minutes further back in the general standings. As for, Orlando Terranova he continues to enchant his fans, finishing this last Argentine special in 6th place in the general standings before crossing the Andes.
After a day out of the limelight, Vladimir Chagin struck with a traditionally strong performance. Winning the stage with a lead of 6'45" over his team-mate Firdaus Kabirov, he also knocked him off the top in the general standings, which he know leads by 6'23". Up to the present, Ales Loprais has continued to take on the role of outsider. The Czech driver and his Tatra are still in third, 6'37" behind. Franz Echter, 4th beind the wheel of a Man truck, already trails Chagin by 35 minutes.