Rallye

Coma gains ground with Dakar Stage 7 win

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Things are getting tight at the top of the motorcycle classification: Marc Coma seized his third career victory in CopiapÌ_ and clawed back 2'03" from Cyril Despres, who managed to defend his lead before the rest day.

A war of nerves started today between Marc Coma and Cyril Despres, who spent the entire stage keeping an eye on each other while riding at full speed, on very fast sand courses in the first part of the special and then in strings of dunes which they crossed without blinking or losing sight of each other.

On the other hand, many motorcycle riders will have no choice but to spend the night here! At any rate, Cyril Despres kicked off the stage by navigating at the front of the race. Marc Coma locked on to him to post the fastest intermediate times and had already put one hand on the stage win by the middle of the special. After the neutralised sector, the Catalan pilot overtook his teammate and started blazing a trail through the dunes. Despres played it safe by matching his rival's pace and conceded 2'03" at the finish, but managed to keep his lead in the general classification with a margin of 7'48".
Marc Coma gained 7 minutes on Cyril Despres with the win on Stage 7
"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," Marc Coma explained.

"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 said, "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."

Behind the two favourites, the battle rages on among podium contenders, who could still earn a bigger prize should the leaders collapse. It has happened before! Paulo Gon̤alves proved his win in Iquique last year was much more than a stroke of luck by posting the third best time in today's special, 2'49" behind Coma (and just 46" behind Despres). His performance also moved him closer to his fellow countryman H̩lder Rodrigues, over whom Cyril Despres still has a very comfortable margin of 49'39".

"This was a very good stage for me and I am very happy about my good time, but especially because I had fun riding on the dunes, although the very soft sand made things difficult," third placed Paolo Gon̤alves said. "I put time into my rivals, except Marc and Cyril, of course, so it was a good stage for me. Now, I will try to use the rest day to start the second week at the same rhythm and try to keep on going like this, every day, until Lima.

Francisco "Chaleco" LÌ_pez produced the most disappointing performance of the day: the local hero started the first Chilean special in the 2012 Dakar with a fall which handicapped him for the rest of the stage. He finished half an hour down on Coma and almost fell out of the Top 10.

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

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