Favourites bounce back


Peterhansel and Coma win stage, Italian fights for life

IQUIQUE, Chile: Pre-race favourites French driver Stephane Peterhansel and Spanish motorcyclist Marc Coma rebounded from disastrous stages on Wednesday to win the latest legs of the event on Thursday.However, their relief for at least putting Wednesday’s nightmare showing behind them was tempered by 29-year-old Italian motorcyclist Luca Manta’s dreadful crash which left him fighting for his life with serious head injuries.

Peterhansel had all but conceded he was out of contention for the overall title after losing over two hours because of serious mechanical problems when he also lost the overall lead.

Peterhansel came home 47 seconds ahead of Spain’s former two-time world rally champion Carlos Sainz, who had replaced the Frenchman in the overall lead.

“I am surprised that we got such a fast time, having driven through 200km in the dust of other competitors,” said Peterhansel.

“We were originally targeting overall victory, but now, it is more complicated.

“I want therefore to drive as fast as possible and climb back up the overall standings as high as possible. We could finish as high as the top three,” he added.

Sainz – who leads a Volkswagen 1-2-3 in the overall placings – for his part was delighted not to have encountered the slightest problem.

“There really were no problems, only that half of the stage we had to drive in the dust behind my teammate Mark Miller.

“The last descent was incredible. We could see the (Pacific) Ocean. It (the descent) was really really steep.”

Two-time motorcycling champion Coma – who had initially lost 37 minutes on Wednesday owing to mechanical problems before being penalised another 22 minutes for speeding at the beginning of the stage – moved up into fourth overall after his stage win.

Coma came in on his KTM motorbike at least 10 minutes clear of his rivals including France’s overall leader Cyril Despres, who finished second.

“It was a really good day, a long one at that with a lot of navigating to be done,” purred Coma.

“There were parts of the route that resembled Egypt. It really was beautiful.

“Now we will rest up overnight by the sea and then we will see what happens on Friday.

“We will take things day by day trying to avoid the problems that plagued us at the beginning of the rally without totally giving up on winning the title.

“However, we are not going to win every day. Simply put, we have to be realistic. It is practically impossible.”

Coma’s pessimistic appraisal of his chances of winning were not shared by Despres.

“We have only passed the six stage mark. There are 14,” he said.

“(Lance) Armstrong never won the Tour de France after the third or fifth stages of the Tour de France. Whether the difference be two minutes, five minutes or two hours Coma remains my chief rival.”

The stage was marred by the serious injury suffered by Manta, ninth overall going into the stage and in his first Dakar Rally.

The 29-year-old KTM rider – whose ambition for the race was to finish in the top five and who rated the level of danger of the race a seven out of ten – crashed just 10 kilometres into the 418km special from Antofagasta and after receiving treatment had to be taken to local hospital by helicopter.

However after an initial diagnosis indicated he had head injuries he was due to be transferred to a neurological unit at a hospital in the capital Santiago. — AFP