Repsol KTM's Marc Coma took a big step toward what he hopes is a victory in this year's Dakar Rally, the Spaniard winning a long and difficult Stage 8 today - 315 miles against the clock in the penultimate day of racing in Chile before heading back in to Argentina for the race to the finish.
Coma finished today's stage a minute and 55 seconds ahead of his rival Cyril Despres, which gives him an overall lead of nine minutes and 19 seconds as the two continue to lead well ahead of the rest of the pursuing pack. Today's win was Coma's third of this year's rally and the 14th stage win of his Dakar career.
"It was a hard stage and very long with plenty of mileage and dunes," Coma said. "With Cyril [Despres] and Chaleco [Lopez] we all rode together. We took turns to open the way, at a very fast pace too. I was happy about the pace today. It was a good stage after a complicated one yesterday. But in the end, everything turned out fine. I'm glad, because it was a 500-km special. That's a hell of a lot."
Chilean Francisco "Chaleco" Lopez rode his Aprilia to third in today's stage and maintained his hold on third in the overall standings.
Despres wasn't overly impressed with the tactics of his rivals.
"It wasn't too bad at all today," Depres said. "We've been on the go for a while: 505 kilometres [313 miles]. And it wasn't easy to open the way, so obviously the others catch up with you. Chaleco and me opened up the way and we had a great time. Today, the game was to stay right behind following in my tracks. He didn't take too many risks, but, you know, that happens. You can't do much about it, but we still distanced the rest of them by miles. Chaleco led the way on all the quick parts and I did the dunes. In the end, the satisfaction came from overtaking them and crossing the finishing line first. It's not much, but for a day like today it's a source of satisfaction. The problem with navigation is like in cycling some riders stick to your back wheel like leeches; well, there's the same thing in rally raids too. But that's just part of the game".
Fourth in the overall standings is behind held by Helder Rodrigues, the Yamaha-mounted Portuguese rider also finishing fourth in today's stage. Despres' Red Bull KTM teammate Ruben Faria was sixth today, but is fifth in the overall standings.
Fifth in today's stage went to Pal-Anders Ullevalseter, the Norwegian rider starting to find his form after a slow start to the rally. The KTM-mounted Ullevalseter is now up to sixth in the overall standings.
One rider who didn't fare well today was BMW-mounted Paolo Goncalves, the Portuguese rider crashing out of the lead at the 34-mile mark and suffering a broken collarbone. Goncalves is now out of the rally.
American Quinn Cody had his best outing of the rally today, the Honda-mounted rider ending up 10th on the day to climb to eighth in the overall standings. As of this writing, Jonah Street, however, had yet to finish the stage as his rally continues to unravel.