Spain’s defending Dakar motorcycling champion Marc Coma regained the overall lead in his thrilling duel with France’s three-time winner Cyril Despres on Monday after winning the eighth stage.
Coma’s compatriot Nani Roma completed a great day for Spain by winning his second stage of the race in the car section in his Mini though French Dakar legend Stephane Peterhansel retained the overall lead.
Coma had been over seven minutes behind Despres going into the 477km stage from Copiapo but the Spaniard benefited from his fellow KTM rider having problems early on when he got stuck in a boggy patch which had not been highlighted in the racebook.
Despres eventually came in 17min 20sec in arrears of Coma but race stewards took into account his time spent in the bog and amended his time accordingly to 9min 14sec - he trails Coma by 1min 26sec in the overall standings.
Coma’s fourth stage win - his 20th overall - of the Rally saw him finish in a time of 5hr 03min and 52sec, seven minutes faster than his team-mate Portuguese rider Ruben Faria while the latter’s compatriot, Yamaha rider Helder Rodrigues, was 7min 10sec adrift in third.
“My 20th special victory: a nice figure,” said the 35-year-old.
“Yet it is not winning specials that counts, but winning the race. And I know there is still a long week of racing ahead.”
Despres for his part said that he could not avoid the mishap which befell him.
“There was a torrent of mud between the inspection of the reconnaissance car two days ago and today (Monday).
“Therefore, it did not appear in the road book and I was the first to fall into the trap. There was no way I could have avoided it.”
Roma - a former winner in the motorbike section - finished in a time of 4hr 25min 44sec, five seconds quicker than American Robby Gordon, driving a Hummer, while former overall leader and fellow Mini pilot Krzysztof Holowczyc was third 2min 04sec adrift.
Peterhansel - a six-time Dakar motorcycling champion and three-time car winner - came in fourth 5min 38sec slower while defending champion Nasser Al Attiyah of Qatar was fifth in his Hummer but lost more time on the overall leader as he was 8min 09sec adrift.
Gordon slashed three minutes off 46-year-old Peterhansel’s overall lead and trails him by 7min 36sec.
Indeed Peterhansel cursed himself after the special and said he feared Gordon could deprive him of an historic 10th win.
“I am losing loads of time. I drove quite slowly in the rocky parts because I was scared of punctures. And despite this... I had one 30 km from the finish,” said the Frenchman.
“Gordon started three minutes before us, and 180 kilometres from here we had got to 30 seconds behind him. I think that when he saw us he stepped it up, leaving us in the dust. He can win this thing.”
Al Attiyah has been plagued by problems from the off - he had more on Monday - but he refused to give up hope of still making a significant mark on the race.
“There were six cars in front of us and we overtook all the Minis, as well as De Villiers’ Toyota,” said the 31-year-old.
“We did a good job. They are nervous because I overtook all of them, but that is not my problem. I know everything is going smoothly, and we will see how far we can go.”