KTM Factory rider Marc Coma rode a masterly tactical race to top the podium in the 2009 Desert Classic on the sands around Abu Dhabi. KTM teammate Cyril Despres was second, and Norway's Pal-Anders Ullesvalseter's third place gave KTM a clean sweep.It was the Spanish rider's third win in the United Arab Emirates event in four years and follows on from his Dakar 2009 triumph.
Coma, who assumed the lead on Thursday over his teammate Despres, took advantage of a new regulation that allows the race leader to choose a starting position for the final stage. Marc opted to start in fourth place on a day that presented strong winds and where shifting sands reduced visibility. He was able to follow the tracks of those in front and had extended his lead by over two and a half minutes at the first checkpoint. Coma eventually finished five minutes 42 seconds ahead of Despres with Ullesvalseter joining the world's two best rally riders on the podium. All three were onboard KTM 690 R machines.
The race was launched in earnest on Monday after Sunday's super special with riders being hampered by strong winds, occasional restricted visibility and shifting sands with Despres arriving at the Tal Mureeb bivouac with a slim 41 seconds edge on Coma after the 442.36km of high speed sand flats and sabkas (salt flats). Ullesvalseter of Norway settled in behind the two KTM factory riders in third place.
Low-lying fog delayed the start on Tuesday where riders had to tackle soft sand and high temperatures, but Coma struck back during the 296.75km desert loop, setting the stage for what was to be a tactical game by the world's two top riders. The Spaniard was a 1m 39s faster over Despres at the first passage control and finished the day's ride with a 1m 25s lead. Ullesvalseter, second over the stage, retained his third overall place behind Coma and Despres.
The overall lead reverted to the Frenchman Despres in stage three, a 340km loop in what was regarded as the most difficult stage of the rally. He slipped past his arch rival but admitted there was still a lot of work to do. "This is typical for the Desert Challenge. It is never easy," he said. By the end of the day over the tricky dunes, Coma had narrowed the deficit to the slimmest 22-second margin. Then, on the penultimate day, beset by strong winds and hampered visibility, Coma again reclaimed the lead from Despres to set up a gladiatorial battle on the final day.
With the weather a major factor on the final day, all that was left was for Coma to play his ace card, choose his starting position carefully and go out and finish the job. He closed out the race in third place in the final stage, and with Despres coming in at fifth, the prize again went to KTM's Spanish rider. "It's a great feeling to take a second win of the season and to keep up that winning run," Coma told reporters. "Today was very difficult. The first part of the stage was in a sand storm and you couldn't see the dunes or the track too well. The last section was faster, but there were some difficult sand spits to deal with."
1. Marc Coma, Spain, KTM, 20h 18m 00s
2. Cyril Despres, France, KTM, 20h 23m 42s
3. Pal-Anders Ullesvalseter, Norway, KTM, 20h 25m 36s
4. Sean Gaugain, South Africa, Honda, 20h 46m 11s
5. Mark Ackerman, South Africa, KTM, 20h 49m 53s
6. Jakub Przygonski, Poland, KTM, 20h 50m 32s
7. Dave McBride, Britain, Honda, 20h 58m 38s
8. Jacek Czachor, Poland, KTM, 21h 56m 33s
9. Sébastien Husseini, Netherlands, KTM 525 XC, 22h 02m 36s* (top Quad)
10. Sean Linton, Britain, Honda, 22h 11m 50s