Red Bull KTM factory rider and three-times Dakar winner Marc Coma rose to the occasion on Thursday during yet another very difficult day to claim his first stage victory in the 2014 Dakar Rally. Coma led in teammate Jordi Viladoms and KTM supported rider Kuba Przygonski allowing KTM to scoop the top three places. Coma said it had been another difficult day: “I opened ninety percent of the stage today. Everything was running well but it was soft sand and very technical and when you’re on the camel grass it is tough. At the end of the last part it was very difficult to find the finish line. I got to another river and had to cut back to find the correct one. But in the end it was good.”
Coma, who moved into second behind the leader Barreda on Wednesday by just three minutes has now taken control of the overall lead after winning the stage more than 12 minutes in front of Viladoms. He leads the overall standings by 41 minutes 10 from Barreda. Przygonski also said the stage had been really tough. “We were riding on the camel grass for about 100 km. That’s really hard physically because we ride in second gear at 50 km h, always jumping, always standing and pushing hard. There was also a lot of navigation and it was very easy to make a mistake because there was so many options to choose.”
KTM-supported rider Riaan van Niekerk of South Africa had his best day out to finish fifth and move up five places in the overall rankings. He is now in seventeenth place at the end of the day’s ride between San Juan and Chilecito Riaan’s day was not without drama because he nearly collided with the burnt out bike of Paolo Goncalves. “I managed to avoid it but it’s not something you expect to see in the desert,” he said. “Today was better than yesterday when I messed up the navigation. I gained a bit today but not enough to make up the lost time. But it’s a long race and so much has happened already. We need to take it day by day. It is much harder than I anticipated. Last year was a breeze compared to this year.”
Thursday’s stage saw some of the big names sacrifice a lot of time. Barreda, Cyril Despres and Coma’s team mate Chaleco Lopez lost 43, 45 and 51 minutes respectively after they and other riders took the wrong track after it had split from the main at around the 195 km mark. Lopez, who was second on Wednesday, finished twenty-seventh in the stage but still hangs on to third overall. He now trails Coma by 53.41. Lopez was philosophical about the outcome of Stage Five. “It was very difficult and the first part was very sandy. It wasn’t a good day for me but it was important to have reached the finish. It’s a long, long race and tomorrow is a new day.”
The physical nature of Thursday’s stage was also evident. Many riders were reported to have suffered from dehydration and exhaustion from the extreme temperatures. Because of this, race officials scrapped the second half of the timed special, originally set for a massive 527 km. â€¨â€¨With just five of thirteen stages under riders’ wheels, the rally this year has been marked by the number of top contenders who are either out of the race or are now well down the order. Of the original field of 196 riders, 54 had withdrawn by the end of Stage Four. Many more joined them during today’s stage. Stage Six takes the field from Tucuman to Salta with a short 64 km liaison and another heavy 400 km of timed special. Riders then take the one rest day on Saturday ahead of the second marathon stage on Sunday and Monday.