Dakar Rallies are always tough but KTM-supported riders Cyril Despres and Marc Coma both rode to glory on Friday before the rest day Saturday in what was a marathon 7 hours and 600 km of extreme terrain. Despres and Coma were 1-2 at the finish line and also in the overall standings.
The 2010 edition of the race, the second time it has been held on the South American continent is proving to be a memorable one for the KTM riders. At the half way mark, when riders can finally take a day's rest on the Pacific Coast of Chile, Despres is able to bask in being the overall leader by just short of one hour seven minutes. The Frenchman took control of the overall standings at the close of Stage 3 after seeing the smaller 450 cc bikes gaining the advantage in the first two timed stages. He has two stage wins to his credit (Stages 3 and 7) and while he has a respectable time advantage, the road back to Buenos Aires will be long and hard and his rival Coma is in the ascendancy. By winning Stage Seven, Despres succeeded in taking his twenty second Dakar stage victory in this famous race.
Despres and Coma - eternal rivals in international rally
Despres and Coma have been trading victories in the Dakar for some years: Despres won in 2005, Coma in 2006, Despres in 2007, the 2008 edition was cancelled then Coma bounced back to win again in 2009 in the first ever Dakar in Argentina and Chile. When skills and tactics are measured there is nothing between the two KTM riders who have been in a class of their own in international rally competition for some years. The 2010 race is also shaping up to be a mirror image of the 2009 edition. Last year it was Despres who was plagued with bad luck in the early part of the race then made a strong comeback to be second to Coma in the final reckoning. This year the tide turned against Coma in the first half of the race. He incurred a 22-minute penalty for speeding after Stage One and also ran into some technical and tire difficulties. Coma has now signaled that he is back in the running and the return - back through Argentina to the finish in Buenos Aires on January 17 can easily be the Battle of the KTM Titans. KTM have won the bike division of the Dakar Rally every year since 2001.
The excellent results for the two KTM riders is also creditable because both are riding KTM 690 Rally machines with air restrictors fitted to trim performance to the equivalent of 450 cc, now the norm of the Dakar Rally. The change in regulations, a shock introduction in the middle of 2009 was a big setback for KTM who had already secured factory rider contracts and built the bigger machines for the 2010 edition. As a result KTM announced they were not fielding a full factory team for the Dakar Rally and Despres and Coma are riding as KTM-supported riders. KTM still remains the dominant bike in the Dakar and over half of the competitors started on KTM bikes. At the half way mark, seven of the top ten riders in the overall standings are onboard KTM machines.
Stage Eight: Still in the Atacama Desert
Riders will need all the rest they can get on Saturday because on Sunday the route takes them back into the sands of the Atacama Desert, their penultimate day in this area where rain has never been recorded. Travelling from Antofagasta back to Copiapo, riders will head off on a liaison of about 100km in an area prone to fog rolling in from the Pacific Ocean. They then head for a 472 km special where the pace will pick up over rocky terrain before plunging competitors back into the dunes in the final section of the day's ride.
Overall standings after Stage Seven
1. Cyril Despres, Andorra, KTM
2. Marc Coma, Spain, KTM (at 1:06.50)
3. Helder Rodrigues, Portugal, Yamaha
4. Pal Ullevalseter, Norway, KTM
5. Francisco Lopez, Chile, Aprilia
Images J. van Oers
Despres in front at half way mark
Coma signals he is back in the running
Norwegan KTM rider Pal Ullevalseter in fourth overall
Riders face two more daunting stages in the Atacama Desert