Arise, the master tactician…
12-Jan-2012 | Christopher Doyle
As the rally comes to a close, with only two complete, full length stages remaining, strategy becomes the master, and only those able to masterfully apply that strategy, will allow themselves the opportunity to prevail. The dynamic comes not in who remains the faster rider, but who can better deploy the total arsenal of their craft for this is no longer just a speed game, this is a thinking game.
Stage 12 traverses the Nazca Lines, geoglyphs, thousands of years old peppering a magical region steeped in mysterious history. The mystery of these giant motifs is synonymous with the mystery that awaits the field of riders as they embark upon yet another path in an unknown land. Dunes are the order of the day and rhythm is the master key unlocking the flow through the sandy expanse.
Cyril Despres sets off as the hare, to be chased by the hounds. One hound in particular, Marc Coma, now trailing Despres by two minutes has his destiny set, or does he? Coma has little choice but to attack in the hopes of taking enough time away from Despres to retake the overall lead and create enough of a cushion for Stage 13 but there is a slim chance of Coma lagging back a bit, sandbagging into Stage 13 in order to follow and pounce rather than storm and lead.
Despres has his choice of strategies, press hard to keep the lead and perhaps force Coma into a mistake, or throttle back allowing Coma to take that lead knowing that going into the penultimate stage, it is best not to start first, the strategic overlay of the stage proving to be a fascinating aspect fought out between the two giants of moto rally.
Winner on stage 11, Despres, was set to open the track. Opening the stage has advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, the rider that starts first has the benefit of a dust free track, the downside being that leading the stage means the rider must not only be fast but completely confident in navigation as there are no tracks to follow, no dust trail indicating the general route, no helicopters giving hints to the path that lay ahead. Both Despres and Coma excel as leaders and the rigor of complete navigation does little to quell their pace.
In the early light, Cyril Despres set off, his main competition, trailing by four minutes, separated by one rider, Bordone-Ferrari’s, Gerard Farres Guell. Coma had little chance but to push and he did, but not pulling out the expected margin. By the end of the first dune section, 70 kilometers into the stage, Coma was outpacing Despres but only just. The surprise of the day was to be the stage lead taken by the injured Stefan Svitko on his KTM. Indeed, Svitko rode through the pain of a torn arm muscle to command the lead for the first half of the stage. Coma followed up a close second, but more telling became the pace of Despres, shadowing Coma by mere seconds.
Tactics at play, strategy at work, it seemed as though both KTM riders were doing what they could to stay at the sharp end of the field but also calculating their placements relative to each other. It was certainly looking like neither the Frenchman nor the Spaniard wanted to lead the other into Stage 13.
By the latter half of the stage, Svitko began to fade and Coma assumed the lead, Despres a half minute back. Physically behind Despres on the stage, Coma would have had an excellent perspective on the timing separating the two at the checkpoint. 49 seconds was the difference, Coma over Despres. At this point though, Coma’s decision was made. To push and build a gap was the only clear choice as Despres looked content to sit back a bit.
By the stage conclusion, Coma had built a commanding lead taking nearly four minutes away from Despres and moving back into the overall lead once again. This move sealed the Spaniard’s fate as Stage 13 would be a no-compromise assault on a blistering pace. Coma took the lead and there would be no more room for tactics for now the race turns back to sheer speed.
Cyril Despres played his hand with the maturity and experience of a rider having completed ten out of eleven Dakar rallies. Finishing no lower than 4th since 2003, the Andorran is the very definition of a calculated tactician, finishing the stage in a comfortable 4th place as Spaniards sweep the stage 12 podium steps. Coma followed by Joan Barreda Bort and then a superb result for Jordi Viladoms, the Spaniards showed their strength on the day.
Joan Barreda Bort steams his Speedbrain Husqvarna to 2nd place
Following Despres in 5th position was Paulo Goncalves, the Portuguese rider salvaging a good result from a rally full of fluctuation. Ruben Faria pulled himself within two spots of his team leader providing a good margin of support for the subsequent stage. Faria slotted into 6th. Helder Rodrigues took 7th on the day followed by earlier stage sensation, Stefan Svitko. Felipe Zanol proved best rookie today, once again occupying a top ten position with Pal Anders Ullevalsetter completing the roster in 10th.
Top stage rookie Felipe Zanol, head and shoulders above the rest today
A time sheet anomaly slots the BMW of Dusan Cipka into the 8th position, but having missed a plethora of waypoints, it is clear that this is indeed a timing mistake on the part of the Slovakian rider.
Again the rookies proved their mettle with KTM pilots Alessandro Botturi claiming 14th place and Johnny Aubert netting an 18th place finish, New Zealander, Chris Birch in 25th.
Johnny Aubert and Alain Duclos
Quotes from the stage finish:
Marc Coma: “It was a difficult day. I set off four minutes after Cyril and I managed to catch up with him. For the entire first part of the special I mainly focused on navigation, because there was absolutely no room for mistakes. After that, I knew that there would be good opportunities to attack in the second part and that’s where I managed to regain ground on Cyril. It’s no way near over, because there’s another big stage tomorrow.”
Joan Barreda Bort: “Apart from the problems experienced during the first week, everything has been fine. Every day, I was finishing with the best. I was fifth once and today I’m second. It’s good and I’m happy. This morning, there were a lot of tracks on the beach and it was difficult to follow. I decided to concentrate on the road-book and to try and navigate well at my own pace. I’m really pleased: finishing in 2nd place is great. I think that the two leading riders are head and shoulders above the rest. They are experienced and quick, but I’m going to carry on working this year, working hard. Perhaps next year I’ll be able to fight for a place on the podium.”
Cyril Despres: “It was a magnificent stage, one of the finest specials that I’ve ridden on the Dakar over the last few years. In sporting terms, I expected that Marc was going to catch up with me and that it wouldn’t be a good day. But it was majestic. I don’t have any regrets, because I attacked throughout the first part. You have to go for broke on this Dakar; it’s not a race where you can play the waiting game. Against Marc Coma, I’m doing battle with an excellent rider. He’s quick and clever. So, I try and find the right pace. Apparently, there are riders in between us, so that’s good news for the start tomorrow.”
Peru displays unmatched beauty
Only a few can master the ebb and flow of the dunes
Stage 13 Preview:
Stage 13 represents the last real chance for Cyril Despres and Marc Coma to seize control of the rally for it is the winner of Stage 13 that may ultimately determine the winner of the overall contest. With Stage 14 but a 29 kilometer timed parade into Lima, barring any unforeseen difficulties, there will be little chance for the results to change much on the last day. The fate of both KTM riders is sealed. Stage 13 will go, not to the tactician or the rider most skilled, Stage 13 will fall prey to the faster of the two. Strategies have played out, tactics are complete, speed will be the order of the day and with Coma opening the stage, Despres has a marked advantage. Will the Andorran easily pick off the two riders between he and Coma to close the gap or will Spanish pride interject in the hopes of slowing Despres or throwing him off Coma’s scent? Whatever plays out, Stage 13 will most probably be the stage to watch for the entire edition.
1 - COMA (ESP) - KTM - 002:24:38
2 - BARREDA BORT (ESP) - HUSQVARNA - +0:02:43
3 - VILADOMS (ESP) - KTM - +0:03:10
4 - DESPRES (FRA) - KTM - +0:03:57
5 - GONCALVES (PRT) - HUSQVARNA - +0:05:25
6 - FARIA (PRT) - KTM - +0:07:05
7 - RODRIGUES (PRT) - YAMAHA - +0:07:31
8 - SVITKO (SVK) - KTM - +0:09:11
9 - ZANOL (BRA) - KTM - +0:09:18
10 - ULLEVALSETER (NOR) - KTM - +0:10:30
1 - COMA (ESP) - KTM - +039:38:16
2 - DESPRES (FRA) - KTM - +0:01:35
3 - RODRIGUES (PRT) - YAMAHA - +1:13:49
4 - VILADOMS (ESP) - KTM - +1:40:34
5 - SVITKO (SVK) - KTM - +1:41:45
6 - FARRES GUELL (ESP) - KTM - +2:06:36
7 - ULLEVALSETER (NOR) - KTM - +2:12:14
8 - BOTTURI (ITA) - KTM - +2:56:34
9 - PAIN (FRA) - YAMAHA - +3:08:31
10 - ZANOL (BRA) - KTM - +3:16:33