Frenchman Cyril Despres won his first stage of this year's Dakar Rally today, the defending race champion and four-time Dakar winner earning victory in the longest stage of the rally - a 368-mile run from San Miguel de Tucuman to Cordoba in Argentina - a day after the racers had their first rest day of the rally.
The stage win - combined with the misfortune of the Yamaha man he was chasing, David Casteau - puts Despres second in the overall standings behind new overall leader Ruben Faria. And Faria is the man hired to make sure Despres makes it to the finish line in first place - so for all practical purposes, Despres leads the Dakar Rally.
"It was a good day with lots of attacking and lots of turns," Despres said. "It would have been impossible for me to do well without my trainer, who makes me work on a bicycle year-round, or without my Michelin tires. Thanks to them for making my muscles strong and my tires sturdy. When I get back to the bivouac, I'll be able to check this stage on my list. I knew that it would be physically demanding, that I'd have to give it my all. I've got blisters on my feet and my hands are sore, but I had to bang my fist on the table to say: 'Hey, I'm here!' Ruben [Faria] and I are racing well for the team; he's in good shape and that's the most important thing right now."
The leader going into today's stage has had a horrible day. Casteau's troubles started early when he and his factory Yamaha struck a cow at the 130-mile mark of the stage. The Frenchman remounted with an injured shoulder after getting assistance from Yamaha's Vincent Guindani, but he'd lost over 21 minutes to Despres and it would only get worse as he encountered a problem with his fuel tank that he couldn't repair.
Husky By Speedbrain's Joan Barreda finished second to Despres in today's stage, the Spaniard ending up some four minutes behind the Frenchman. Barreda's Italian teammate Alessandro Botturi finished third for his best stage finish in what is his second Dakar Rally.
Faria ended up fourth in today's stage with Honda's Helder Rodrigues fifth - an effort that matched his best from stage four.
Of the Americans it was Honda's Johnny Campbell faring best in stage nine, the Californian ending the stage in 10th. That result - and his second-place finish on Saturday - bumps him up to 37th overall.
Red Bull KTM's Kurt Caselli rebounded from his horrible Saturday to finish 17th in today's stage. Caselli is now 30th overall after incurring three hours and 20 minutes worth of penalties on Saturday.