Marc Coma won the seventh stage of the 2012 Dakar to close on overall race leader Cyril Despres. Coma now trails his team-mate by 7m 48s as the race reaches its half way point.
In what was another tactical day at the front, Coma started the stage first, but Despres’ tactical approach meant that the Frenchman was never far behind.
Marc Coma: "We all know that the stage before the rest day is always difficult, and today was no exception, with stifling heat and very soft sand. Nevertheless, we rode very fast and I was able to attack. I gained two minutes on Cyril but that is obviously not enough! We know the strategy well, so we are aware that I will probably gain two minutes one day, then Cyril will gain two minutes the next... And it is hard to change this when there is only one road. Anyway, we are second in the general classification on the rest day and everything is going smoothly, so it has been a good rally for us so far.”
Cyril Despres: “I was a bit lazy today, since Marc led the race from km 200 onwards, the start of the second special, but I think that is also part of the race. There is always a strategic aspect, since we know we can control two-minute gaps. Having said that, I finished with my hands numb but it was a really beautiful special with beautiful dunes... And it feels good to lead the race on the rest day. I am happy.”
Third place in the overall standings is Helder Rodrigues onboard his factory Yamaha albeit 49m 39s behind leader Despres. Husqvarna Speedbrain rider Paolo Goncalves finished the first half of the Dakar off with another impressive third place on stage seven. He now holds fourth in the overall standings.
It was a tough day for the factory Aprilia squad. Number one rider Francesco Lopez crashed heavily and suffered knee and bike damage. He was able to finish the stage and awaits further examination to se if he will be declared fit to continue the rest of the Dakar.
López said: “It was a terrible fall, I was going fast and when I hit a hole in the ground and was thrown from the bike. It was not easy to get back to the race… I must check what has happened to my knee to decide if I can continue.”
Irishman Stan Watt continued to make impressive progress and is now up to 42nd overall after finishing stage seven in 43rd place.
With both Sam Sunderland and Jago Pickering out of the race, Tobias Younger remains the only Brit left in the race – but only just.
He tweeted – “10K from the end of stage 7 at 9pm but last climb too steep and sand too soft. One truck has rolled and 5 cars stuck. Huge Mountains of sand. So close, but going to wait till dawn to try again - Road book not working-GPS out of battery and no front light - Bike OK.”
With a scheduled rest day on Sunday, the Dakar will restart on Monday with a stage of monster 722 kilometers of riding between Copiapó and Antofagasta including 477 kilometers of timed special stage.
Stage Seven Results
1, Marc Coma, Spain, KTM 3 hours 51:35
2, Cyril Despres, France, KTM at 2 minutes 03
3, Paolo Goncalves, Husqvarna at 2: 49
4, Helder Rodrigues, Portugal, Yamaha at 3:46
5, Gerrard Farres Guell, Spain, KTM at 6:50
6, Pal Anders Ullevalseter, Norway, KTM at 8:07
Overall Results after Stage Seven
1, Cyril Despres, France, KTM 18:12:38
2, Marc Coma, Spain, KTM at 7 minutes 48 seconds
3, Helder Rodrigues, Portugal, Yamaha at 49:39
4, Paolo Goncalves, Portugal, Husqvarna, 55:33 (6 minutes penalty)
5, David Casteu, France, Yamaha at 1:05:38