Marc Coma took a giant step toward winning this year's Dakar Rally today, the Spaniard and his Repsol-backed KTM beating his rival Cyril Despres to the finish by almost 10 minutes after the longest stage of this year's rally.
The win, Coma's ??? of this year's rally and the ??? of his career, was a blow to Despres' chances of a repeat victory in the Dakar. While Coma had a relatively uneventful ride for the 535 miles that made up the stage (with a special stage around Fiambala of 109 miles that the racers had already been on - but this time it was ran the other way), Despres and his Red Bull KTM suffered with a navigational miscue that hindered his progress. While following Dutchman Frans Verhoeven and his BMW, who led at the time, the two headed down the wrong valley and had to turn around and back track. The miscue cost him some five minutes to Coma. He managed to pull back the gap, but then ran into more troubles when he got stuck in a mud hole.
"I made a first big mistake after 120 km whilst I was riding well," Despres said. "I read 17 instead of 117 on the navigation and I ended up in the rocks with Verhoeven. We already lost lots of time there, but then in the last few kilometers I made another mistake, turned round and fell into a mud hole. It was impossible to get back out; it took me 10 minutes in all. I thought I was going to lose even more time. It's a bad day, but that's rally raids for you - some days are good, some are bad."
So with 10 stages in the books, Coma leads Despres by 18 minutes and 10 seconds in the overall standings. Third place is still held by Aprila's Francisco Lopez Contardo, though Ruben Faria and Miran Stanovnik, the KTM-mounted Slovenian having by far the best stage of his rally, beat the Chilean in today's stage.
Lopez Contardo is well clear of Yamaha's Helder Rodrigues in the battle for third overall. Rodrigues, who led portions of today's stage, ended up 10th. Faria, meanwhile, rounds out the top five in the overall standings.
The Americans had a rough day at the office. Yesterday's stage-nine winner Jonah Street finished 46th today and over an hour and a half after Coma; he is now 16th overall. Honda's Quinn Cody was 45th in stage 10 and is now 10th overall.