Red Bull KTM Factory rider Marc Coma moved one step closer to securing his fourth Dakar title on Friday when he finished second in the penultimate stage of this motorsports epic two minutes 17 behind rival Cyril Despres.
Coma now leads the overall standings by one hour 59.49, even allowing for a 15-minute penalty when the team decided to change out his engine overnight.
Coma: “Today was a very long stage, 350 km. We finished in the Copiapo dunes. This means it is always tough, difficult and not easy for navigating. From the past we know that normally this stage is decisive. So now I’m here, I’m happy of course. We stayed together with Cyril all day and we arrived at the end without any big problems. Of course, there are always some small mistakes and we had to find the way point.”
Friday’s stage was not without its drama with the two leaders having to double back to find a way point within sight of the finish line and even more significantly, with Joan Barreda, who occupied second overall after Stage 11 experiencing mechanical issues half way through the timed special.
Barreda finally finished at sixty-third in the stage and dropped down to seventh overall to trail Coma by three hours 17.10 only to have his second place inherited by Coma’s factory teammate Jordi Viladoms.
Viladoms finished fifth on Friday, nine minutes behind the leader and has a 10-minute advantage over Frenchman Olivier Pain, who is now third. Powering in behind Pain is Despres who will also be challenging for a podium on the final stage.
With the finish in his virtual sights, Coma underlined that there was still 150 km to the finish in Valparaiso and said that he was trying to stay focused.
The two KTM-supported riders Kuba Przygonski of Poland and South African Riaan van Niekerk both arrived safely at the bivouac in seventh and eleventh place in the stage. Kuba is currently sixth overall and Riaan is now eleventh
Riders started the stage at high altitude over El Salvador to avoid the Camanchaca, the morning mist coming in from the Pacific Ocean that has in the past delayed the start of the stage. Much of their ride was in the sand, especially in a big series of dunes at the end of the day.
There is still another 535 km to the finish line at Valparaiso, including the last test for this year, another 157 km of timed special. The final dash to the finish demands riders climb hills planted with cacti so organizers warn they need to be wary of not coming to a prickly end.
Results Stage 12 (unofficial)
El Salvador to La Serena 349 km liaison, 350 km special = 699 km
1, Cyril Despres, FRA, Yamaha, 3 hours 58.18
2, Marc Coma, ESP, KTM at 2.17
3, Olivier Pain, FRA, Yamaha at 5.53
4, Paolo Rodrigues, PRT, Honda, at 7.21
5, Jordi Viladoms, ESP, KTM at 9.10
Overall after Stage 12
1, Coma, 52 hours 40.16
2, Villadoms at 1:59.49
3, Pain at 2: 21.16
4, Despres 2:14.01
5, Rodrigues at 2:20.39
6, Przygonski at 2:27.23
8, Svitko at 3:52.45
9, Casteu at 4:01.42
10, Jakes at 4:22.23
12, Van Niekerk at 4:55.11