Just a day after losing the overall lead in the Dakar Rally to his rival Marc Coma, Cyril Despres was back on top after winning today's stage by three minutes and 54 seconds over his fellow KTM factory rider. That puts Despres two minutes and 28 seconds ahead of Coma in the overall standings after nine stages of the rally.
"I had to get back to my winning ways after a difficult day yesterday when you start to doubt," Despres said in a team release. "It wasn't easy to psyche myself up for it, but I'm very happy with my day's work. We came into this looking at a battle for seconds or minutes. It's very competitive. Like any sportsman, if you don't like confrontation or squeezing the last ounces of strength out of yourself, then you're not ready for a fight. But, as for me, I'm up for it."
Young Spaniard Joan Barred abort rode his Husqvarna to third in the stage behind the two factory bikes, but some 8:28 behind Despres. Helder Rodrigues ended the day fourth with fellow Portuguese Paulo Goncalves rounding out the top five finishers today. Those two trailed Despres by 11:44 and 15:12, respectively.
Rodrigues continues to hold down third in the overall standings, but he's 59 minutes and 19 seconds behind Despres. Goncalves, in fourth, is an hour and 25 minutes behind. Yamaha's David Casteau, meanwhile, is in danger of losing his spot in the top 10 after running into engine troubles on the course.
Coma says it's now crunch time in the rally.
"We knew that this would be difficult today," Coma said. "It was a long special and there was plenty of navigation to deal with. We're now coming to the crunch part of the rally. Cyril is a major rival and we do battle over every single kilometer. But I think it's interesting, it's sport."