Red Bull KTM factory rider Marc Coma of Spain remained on course to pick up his fourth Dakar title on Thursday when he won Stage 11 after successfully completing the longest timed special of this year’s epic ride. He now leads the overall standings with a 52 minute 36 seconds advantage over countryman Joan Barreda.
Riders tackled a massive seven-hour ride of just over 600 km, deep in the dunes of the Atacama Desert. But for most of the day Coma and his traditional rival and former KTM teammate Cyril Despres rode close together. Despres was second in the stage coming in two minutes 51 behind Coma, who picked up his third stage win.
Marc Coma: “To find the right rhythm is never easy. To find the compromise between going fast, but not taking risks, this is the most difficult. You have to feel comfortable on the bike and not ride crazy. This is important. It’s still a long way to go and tomorrow is a very difficult special. We have to be very focused.”
A very happy Jordi Viladoms, Coma’s teammate in the factory team, finished fourth in the stage just under seven minutes behind the leader and held onto his third place overall with a 14-minute gap to Frenchman Olivier Pain.
Viladoms said the stage had been a key day: “I’m very happy. Today it was important to push from the start to the end and I made it. I was in a good position all day. Tomorrow is also a long stage and anything can happen but now I’m happy to keep the third position. The bike is working well and the team is working very hard for me.”
KTM-supported rider Kuba Przygonski of Poland finished ninth in the stage and remains in seventh overall and Riaan van Niekerk, KTM’s supported rider from South Africa also had a solid day finishing thirteenth. He is twelfth overall.
It is only the South African’s second Dakar ride and Riaan is on a steep learning curve. “Today was a really long day and there was a long navigation stretch as well. But the navigation was a lot better for me today. I tried to concentrate on the instructions in the road book and that helped. I had to slow down a bit but it was a good lesson learned. I need to up my game, to try to go faster and to learn to navigate,” he said.
KTM Team Manager Alex Doringer was very satisfied with his riders. “Marc did a fantastic ride today. He was really impressive and did a great job. He was very relaxed when he came back to the bivouac tonight. He had a small crash this morning but nothing serious and the bike is working well. Tomorrow is another long stage and Marc will open the track. Jordi also did a great job today and he’s in a good position at third and Kuba and Riaan have been improving all the time.”
The Red Bull KTM factory riders are this year competing on the brand new 2014 KTM RALLY bike, which had its first real test in race conditions only in the Morocco Rally last October.
The penultimate stage on Friday will again offer its share of challenges as they ride from El Salvador to La Serena over a total distance of 699 km, including a timed special of 350 km, including another series of dunes at the end of the timed special.
Results Stage 11 (unofficial)
Antofagasta to El Salvador – 144 km liaison, 605 km special = 749
(Longest timed special)
1, Marc Coma, ESP, KTM 6 hours 36.08 (third stage win in this edition)
2, Cyril Despres, FRA, Yamaha at 2.51
3, Olivier Pain, FRA, Yamaha at 5.28
4, Jordi Viladoms, ESP, KTM at 6.53
5, Joan Barreda, ESP, Honda at 8.12