Dakar Day One: Lopez On Top

Cycle News Staff | January 1, 2012

Aprilia’s Francisco Lopez won the opening stage of the Dakar Rally today, the Chilean winning the sixth stage of his Dakar career – a short 35-mile stage that started in the seaside town of Mar del Plata, Argentina – with two Americans finishing the opening day in the top 10.

“I did not get off to a very fast start this morning, since the first part of the special stage was quite tough, with all the dunes and all those spectators,” Lopez said of day one. “Moreover, the first special of the Dakar is always more challenging, since you need to find your focus on the race, and the new GPS is somewhat smaller, so I really was very careful. Fortunately, the special’s last 20 kilometers were very fast and I was able to drive much more aggressively.”

Lopez bested defending Dakar Champion Marc Coma by 14 seconds with Honda Racing Argentina’s Javier Pizzolito third on the day. Coma, the race favorite, is attempting to win his fourth Dakar Rally and his second in a row.

JCR Honda’s Quinn Cody, who finished ninth overall in his Dakar debut last year, ended the day in fourth place – 30 seconds behind Lopez. Cody’s rally started with a scare when his motorcycle was inadvertently shipped to Peru and not Argentina.

Jonah Street Racing’s Jonah Street ended the first stage in 10th place.

The man many expect to fight for victory, Cyril Despres, lost a minute and 48 seconds in today’s first stage, the Frenchman ending the day in 13th.

“I am happy to start, to ride my motorcycle, to see my roadbook and notes again,” Despres said. “I just need to get used to it again. I took this special quite cautiously because there were a lot of potholes, fesh-fesh, dust and spectators so I kept it cool at the beginning.”

Following today’s short stage, the racers will make the long liaison to Santa Rosa de la Pampa.