Marc Coma just 2 seconds ahead in overall standings
Marc Coma of Spain took line honors in Stage Four of the Dakar Rally on Thursday to even up the reckoning with arch rival and fellow KTM factory rider, French-born Cyril Despres. Coma also takes control of the overall standings by a mere two seconds in what is shaping up to be a battle royal between the two giants of the sport.
Important day, Coma says
Coma said it had been "a very important day" for him, even if a relatively short special. "It was difficult to open the way. 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 finished 16 seconds in front in Stage 4
Coma registered the best provisional time of the day by just 16 seconds over Despres, who had stuck closely to his rival throughout the day's special. Despres was never more than 32 seconds behind and constantly shaved a second here and there as the day progressed as the stage took the riders from San Salvador de Jujuy in Argentina over the Andes and down into Calama on the Chilean side of the border. Riders absolved 554 km on the road and a special of 207 km and were rewarded at the end of the day with their first look at the famed Atacama Desert, the driest region on the planet.
Cyril Despres closely shadowing rival Coma
Tough competition between KTM's two leading riders
The rivalry between the two KTM factory riders is legendary and this Dakar is no exception. Despres won the first two stages and Coma the second two but in reality there is nothing between them as they tackle the tricky desert dunes of Chile. The KTM riders were closely shadowed on Wednesday by Francisco (Chaleco) Lopez who would have wanted to enter his home country in the lead, had riding at the top of the field not been so fierce. He was two minutes behind but now has a deficit of more than 20 minutes in the general standings as the two leaders begin to put serious distance between themselves and the rest of the field. If either wins the event this year it will be the 10th victory for KTM, the Austrian sports motorcycle brand. Despres already owns three Dakar trophies; Coma has two to his credit and neither will concede an inch until after they get back to Buenos Aires on January 16.
Different mind set, Despres says
"For this type of terrain that's so different you need to change the way your brain's wired. 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, 2 seconds behind. For a number 2, that's a neat trick, isn't it?"
Juan Pedrero moves up the standings
Mixed fortunes for co-riders
It was a mixed day for the co-riders of the two leaders. Juan Pedrero of Spain, Coma's partner in the 33rd edition had his best stage so far to finish sixth, just over seven minutes behind the leaders and now moves up to sixth in the overalls. Ruben Faria, Cyril's co-rider was not so lucky and experienced difficulties between waypoint two and four and dropped from third to 26th at the end of the day, Ruben crossed the line in 22nd place and dropped down the order in the generals to seventh place. The two KTM teams can be satisfied that all of their four factory riders are in the top seven after getting into the tougher stages, while Coma and Despres are now pulling ahead of the rest of the field.
Dakar goes to Chile
Today was the day that the Dakar "caravan" crossed the Andes at an altitude of 4800 m via the Paso de Jama pass so competitors had to content with the thin air as well as tough riding conditions, even if the special was only half the distance of yesterday's Stage Three. Organizers had made provision for possible negative affects of the altitude on the competitors and some 30 vehicles were positioned along the course to assist anyone with altitude-related difficulties. Stage Four was also the first stage where bikes, cars and trucks in the rally all followed the same route.
Mixed day's fortune for Ruben Faria
High altitude crossing
Having safely managed the stage, the altitude, the crossover into Chilean territory, the teams now have to muster their physical and mental strength to apply themselves to attacking the soft and shifting sands of the Chilean desert, the mighty Atacama. Riders still have two very testing days on the bikes before the one and only rest day on Saturday in this marathon event. Stage Five, another very challenging ride allows them a mere 36 km on the road and 423 grueling kilometers of mixed terrain, including rocky track and dunes. The stage finishes at Iquique on the Pacific coast when they make a heart-stopping descent at an average gradient of 32%. On Friday they continue north through the sand and dunes to a point near the border with Peru, which is also new territory for the rally this year.
Stage 4 Results
1, Marc Coma, Spain, KTM, 2:04:00
2, Cyril Despres, Andorra, at 00:16
3, Francisco Chaleco Lopez, Chile, Aprilia, at 2:05
4, Olivier Pain, France, Yamaha, at 6:20
5, Helder Rodriguez, Portugal, Yamaha, at 6:55
6. Juan Pedrero, Spain, KTM at 7:15
22. Ruben Faria, Portugal, KTM at 17:43
General Standings after Stage 4
1, Marc Coma, Spain, KTM 11:43:12
2, Cyril Despres, Andorra, at 00:02
3, Francisco (Chaleco) Lopez, Chile, Aprilia, at 20:12
4. Paolo Goncalves, Portugal, BMW, 25:40
5, Helder Rodriguez, Portugal, Yamaha, at 26:02
6. Juan Pedrero, Spain, KTM at 26:23
7, Ruben Faria, Portugal, KTM at 27:07