Barring a catastrophe or a complete meltdown, Repsol KTM's Marc Coma all but made certain that he will win this year's Dakar Rally, the Spaniard earning the victory in today's 12th stage from San Juan to Cordoba over his rival Cyril Despres and taking a 16-minute-and 36-second lead into tomorrow's final stage.
Coma charged through to win his fifth stage of this year's rally by 37 seconds over Despres with Yamaha's Hector Rodrigues finishing third. Francisco Lopez Contardo rode his Aprilia to fourth and then came a surprise... American Quinn Cody and his Honda scoring his best stage finish of his debut Dakar in fifth place.
"It was a tough stage, really long," Cody said. "The first part was fun, it was sandy and I had a really good time. Then we came onto the part where the trucks had gone in front of us and they'd just made huge holes and mud puddles. That was really challenging. I'm just riding the way I would normally ride, slowly building speed with the road-book and I feel pretty comfortable with it now. I definitely want to come back. I'm going to try and put something together to come back next year and come at it to race, not just to finish. I'm trying to learn and do my best. It's working well and I'm really happy with the way things are going."
The fifth today moved Cody up to ninth overall and he looks nearly certain of posting a top-10 finish in his rookie Dakar with Lopez Contardo and Rodrigues locked into third and fourth overall.
"It was a stage that had everything, with sand and mud, before technical and quick tracks at the end," Rodrgues said. "It was important for me to protect my position whilst Marc and Cyril battled for first place. There were 40 to 50 kilometers where it was difficult, but I managed to get to the finish and there's only one day left now. I'm happy even if I would have liked have a bit more of a battle today. The Dakar is finishing now and, like we say in Chile, you have to ‘keep a cool head' for what's left. Marc and Cyril have lots of experience, eight or nine Dakars, I think, whilst I've only done four. They have better, well-developed bikes. Ours is a work in progress".
Fellow American Jonah Street finished 12th in today's stage and is 11th overall.
Today's victory was the 16th stage win of Coma's career and it moved him out of a tie with the late Richard Sainct on the all-time list.
"Today was complicated due to all the rain that fell last night," Coma said. "As a result, it was a very technical stage, like in endurance racing. But it went fine. There is still a 190-km stage left to race tomorrow. Normally, there shouldn't be any complications, but we still need to race them; it's there to be done. It just shows that the route has been designed to ensure that there is suspense up to the end, so we'll just have to wait and see tomorrow."
Despres, meanwhile, seems to be accepting defeat.
"I had to go on the attack, it's a bit second nature for me anyway, so I've been going for it since the first kilometer, even if I slowed a bit at the end," Despres said. ? At least it's good to not have any regrets. I gave it everything I had and it was a long day. It must have rained a lot last night because the tracks were churned up with lots of mud. It was hellish. My chances are looking slimmer though. After a day like that with 555 km to cover and opportunities to open up gaps, we more or less cancelled each other out. Mind you, it's not the end of the world, you know, you have to keep things in perspective."