Rallye

Francisco Lopez leads on Day one at Dakar as more tragedy strikes

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After spending most of the year injured, Francisco Lopez took the first stage of the 2012 Dakar in the motorcycle category and now leads a provisional top 5 which represents a break with tradition.

Marc Coma was classed second while Argentina's Javier Pizzolito (19th last year) finished third.

Among all the race favourites, Francisco LÌ_pez is the one who has done the most to keep a low profile. But now that the chips are down, it is he who banged his fist on the table harder than anyone else.

The Chilean rider took a hard fall in last spring's Rally of Tunisia. His bone fractures meant that the Dakar seemed a distant, even uncertain prospect. After going under the knife on six different occasions, the recovering LÌ_pez was able to start the Pharaons Rally, which he finished in the 36th position.

Therefore, during the scrutineering process, "Chaleco" merely emphasised how happy he was just to be able to start the Dakar. But after the first few twists of the right handle, in the short, 57-kilometre-long special stage, he simply cracked the time set by Marc Coma a bit earlier. This was despite the Spaniard's good memories: he had already won on the road to Santa Rosa in the opening stage of the 2009 Dakar. But this time round, LÌ_pez took his sixth stage win in the rally, which lifts him to the top of a never-seen-before general classification.
Chaleco Lopez on his way to the Stage one win. Photo: DPi
"I was very careful...," Lopez said.

"I did not get off to a very fast start this morning, since the first part of the special stage was quite tough, with all the dunes and all those spectators. Moreover, the first special of the Dakar is always more challenging, since you need to find your focus on the race, and the new GPS is somewhat smaller, so I really was very careful. Fortunately, the special's last 20 kilometres were very fast and I was able to drive much more aggressively."

Clearly in a confident spirit, Coma said after the brief dash of the timed special: "The first special was breathtaking: next to the seaside and with beautiful little dunes. It really was a fantastic warm-up. But we still have a long day ahead of us, with a lengthy liaison." Despres was also happy to be back on the bike and communing with his road book. "I took this special quite cautiously because there were a lot of potholes, fesh-fesh, dust... and spectators, so I kept it cool at the beginning!"

Hot on the heels of Marc Coma comes Javier Pizzolito, who posted the 3rd best time in today's stage. Pizzolito is promised a warm welcome in Santa Rosa once he has completed the 620-kilometre liaison. He has just turned in the strongest performance by an Argentinean rider at the Dakar! He lies just ahead of "miracle man" Quinn Cody, whose motorcycle took a detour through Lima just before reaching Mar del Plata in the nick of time, 4th at 30", while young Jakub Przygonsky rounds off today's Top 5, 49" behind "Chaleco". Cyril Despres lost 1'48".

With less than three minutes separating the first 20 riders it is clear that they get down to serious business in Stage Two. They leave Santa Rosa to tackle 300 km of timed special that starts on firm terrain and ends in dangerously tricky soft sand. As they get closer to their destination at San Rafael they will encounter the grey volcanic sand that slows down their bikes and requires absolute concentration and physical effort from the riders.

DAKAR CLAIMS ANOTHER LIFE

Sadly Argentinian motorcyclist Jorge Martinez Boero died following an accident on the first day of the Dakar Rally.

The 38-year-old Boero, making his second appearance on the gruelling rally, sustained a heart attack after a fall during the opening day of racing between Mar del Plata and Santa Rosa de la Pampa in the west of Argentina.

Organisers said that Boero received medical attention within five minutes of the crash and was airlifted by helicopter, but died on his way to hospital.

The son of a former national motor racing champion and taking part in his second Dakar rally, he suffered serious injuries to his thorax and cardiac arrest.

Stage One Results: Mar Del Plata to Santa Rosa de la Pampa: 57 km Special; 763 Liaison
1, Chaleco Lopez, Chile, Aprilia, 32 minutes 37 seconds
2, Marc Coma, Spain, KTM at 14 seconds
3, Javier Pizzolito, Argentina, Honda, at 27 seconds
4, Quinn Cody, USA, Honda, at 30 seconds
5, Jakub Przygonski, Poland, KTM, at 49 seconds
6. Joan Barreda Bort (ESP) Husqvarna
7. Sam Sunderland (GBR) Honda
8. Ruben Faria (POR) KTM
9. David Casteu (FRA) Yamaha
9. Orlando Terranova (ARG) Toyota
10. Ricardo Leal Dos Santos (POR) Mini
10. Jonah Street (USA) Yamaha

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