Dakar 2012 - Heading into the final stretch

One of the most intense races of the year, the fourteen stage battle across three countries of rugged terrain and seemingly insurmountable obstacles has been raging on since the first of the year and is now heading into the final stretch. Our update at the end of stage two left us with Marc Coma taking the lead for the motorcycle class with Cyril Despres not far behind. With Jonah Street withdrawing on the first day due to technical difficulties, our eyes were on Quinn Cody for the American riders.

But a lot can happen in a single day at Dakar and, since then, riders have both risen to the challenge and caved under the pressure. Stage three took them from San Rafael to San Juan in Argentina where the race for the top spots was still tight with Coma in the lead. After the third checkpoint however, Coma made a severe navigational error, following the itinerary for the car class and was forced to double back, which cost him some severe time and put Despres ahead of him. Guess we know who Garmin won't be using as the next spokesperson.

Stage three also saw the withdrawal of American favorite, Quinn Cody. After the tough day in stage two due to a blown tire, which also damaged his rear tank and brake line, the rider was in 24th place overall. During stage three, Cody suffered a severe crash after the third checkpoint, breaking his collar bone and giving him a decent injury to his head. Though he escaped more serious injury, he was forced to withdraw from the race.

Stage four took the riders from San Juan to Chilecito, which was expected to be a tough run. But Coma was intent on taking back the lead and came out of the start with some serious bite, finishing ahead of Despres for the day.

The dunes in Fiambala have been known to make or break even the best of Dakar competitors and were the main obstacle of stage five. Despres, still in the lead, and his rival Coma continued to be in a league of their own throughout this stage while Despres kept the gap between him and Coma despite both finding themselves a little lost.

Dakar wouldn't be the same without serious weather, but, unfortunately, the day of stage six saw a bit too much of it and had to be canceled. Instead, the riders picked back up in Copiapo for stage seven in order to make a 419 kilometer loop around the city. Despres was the first to hit the ground running but quickly lost ground to Coma who would finish first for the stage, two minutes ahead of current leader, Despress. The gap between the two has now been shrunk to seven minutes and forty-eight seconds overall.

The next day marked the halfway point of the fourteen stage race and was a happily welcomed rest day for all of the riders. But the game was back on when the sun came up for stage eight, taking the riders out of Argentina and into Chile with a race from Copiapo to Antofagasta. The path takes the riders through sand as fine as flower and, once again, Coma makes a navigational error that only lessons his chances of winning the race as well as his chance of ever being a GPS unit spokesman. He does, however, manage to steer around a muddy bog while Despres and some other riders take a nose dive that requires a good ten minutes to dig themselves out leaving them exhausted and muddy. Coma goes on, clean as ever, to take the stage and, with a nine minute gap between him and Despres, the overall first place lead.

After the day's finish, however, the Dakar officials went back to adjust the times of those who found themselves trapped in the mud for ten minute periods, once of which was Despres. While the time adjustment still leaves Coma with the win for the day and the overall lead, the gap is now a mere one minute and twenty-six seconds.

Today, the riders take on stage nine from Antofagasta to Iquique. Though Coma started the day out in the lead, it was by a mere minute and a half and it seems as though Despres was able to close that gap and take the win for today's stage. Finishing three and a half minutes ahead of Coma, Despres is now back in the lead but by a just two minutes.

With five stages left, the two riders are sure to remain close. Each is trying for their fourth Dakar series win. The closes rider to the two top riders is currently Helder Rodrigues from Portugal. It would take a serious upset however for the rider to overtake either of the current leaders as the gap is currently almost a full hour between Despres and him.

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