Cyril Despres took full advantage of a navigational blunder by Marc Coma to not only win today's stage three, but to also take a commanding lead in the overall standings of the Dakar Rally.
Team Red Bull KTM's Despres won the 27th stage of his Dakar career and it was a big one has he beat Sherco's Frans Verhoeven to the finish by eight minutes and 37 seconds. More importantly, he beat Coma to the line by 13:04 to take over at the top of the overall standings - 10 minutes and 12 seconds clear of his fellow factory KTM star and defending Dakar Champion Coma.
It was a very complicated special stage for me!" Despres said. "It didn't start well this morning, because when I hit a hole I ripped off a fingernail on the clutch. 60 km later, my compass repeater stopped. We reached the mountains and I wanted to keep the same pace, because I knew that Marc [Coma] was riding very fast in front of me, but when we got to a stream, I must have slowed the pace when I had to check my GPS. To cap it all, I broke my rear brake on the big climb, so the descent was very tricky, but I made sure I was careful. Over the last 50 kilometres, I couldn't see many tire tracks so I wasn't sure that Marc was up ahead. In the end, I finished first and I've been told that he chose the wrong track so that's going to be to my advantage. It's good for my position, even if I'm never happy about other people's setbacks."
Coma mistakenly took the car and truck route during the special stage, costing him valuable time that may be difficult to make up on his experienced teammate.
"After 170 km, there was a different track for the bikes and the cars," Coma said. "I checked the road-book and thought I was on the right track, but then I saw that wasn't the case, because the next note was after 8 km and it wasn't correct, so I turned round! 16 km is a lot! So, after that, I went on the attack to try and gain back some time, but today was a difficult day, even if the scenery was spectacular... Well, in the end, I've lost 13 minutes. It's a lot, but when you make a mistake, you shouldn't be surprised that the gaps open up. That's racing for you. Yesterday was my day, but today definitely wasn't!"
Husqvarna Rally Team By Speedbrain's Paulo Goncalves ended up third in today's stage behind Despres and Verhoeven, with Yamaha's Helder Rodrigues fourth and Giofil Aprilia's Alain Duclos fifth.
In the overall standings, Frenchman David Gasteu holds down third overall on his factory Yamaha behind Despres and Coma. Aprilia's stage one winner Francisco Lopez is fourth overall, just 21 seconds behind Gasteu.
Rodrigues, meanwhile, is fifth overall - 19:49 behind Despres.
American Quinn Cody crashed and was airlifted to hospital with a broken collarbone and "head injury," though promoters say that his condition is "not alarming." The JCR rider, however, has withdrawn from the Dakar Rally.
The other top American in the race, Jonah Street, has also withdrawn after mechanical problems put him out of yesterday's second stage.