Although the altitude and terrain changed today in the fourth stage of the Dakar Rally, the winner of the stage did not as Repsol KTM's Marc Coma won his second straight stage and also grabbed the overall lead for the first time as the rally took competitors out of Argentina and into Chile - via the Andes Mountains - and through the Paso de Jama pass.
Coma has now won two stages with Red Bull KTM rival Cyril Despres also winning two and the margin of his lead after four stages is a scant two seconds, making this year's event look like a two-man race between the two best rally racers in the world.
"It was difficult to open the way," Coma said of the relatively short special test. "I'm happy and I felt great. I hope it stays like that right until the end. The general standings don't matter for the moment. The most important thing will be the last day. It's essential to have a good pace and avoid making mistakes. Now we'll have to deal with two very difficult stages".
Coma crossed the line some 16 seconds ahead of Despres, but started the day 14 seconds behind in the overall standings. Despres trailed by as much as 32 seconds today, but managed to whittle that down to 16 by the finish line as the top two rally riders in the world distanced themselves from the rest of the pack as they headed into Chile's Atacama Desert.
Aprilia's Francisco Chaleco Lopez finished third in today's stage, the Chilean rider thriving in his home country. Still, he finished two minutes behind the leading pair and now trails in the overall standings by some 20 minutes.
"For this type of terrain that's so different you need to change the way your brain's wired," Despres said. "There's no more hard ground, just desert, off-track riding and surfaces that break up. It was a good start to the desert stages. Today, Marc Coma rode a great stage. It's a superb battle with Marc. Today again we opened up a little more of a gap on the others. This evening, I'm in second, two seconds behind. For a number 2, that's a neat trick, isn't it?"
Despres's teammate Ruben Faria had a tough day at the office, finishing 22nd and dropping to seventh in the overall standings.
Yamaha France's Olivier Pain ended the day in fourth place with Yamaha-mounted Helder Rodriguez rounding out the top five.
BMW-mounted Paolo Goncalves is fourth overall, however, with Rodriguez fifth.
Americans Jonah Street and Quinn Cody ended today's stage in 12th and 13th, respectively. Street is 11th overall with Cody 13th.