The white dunes of Fiambala added to their collection of Dakar victims on stage 10 as the desert classic headed back to Argentina with the lead times changing hands across the categories…
One of the day’s biggest losers was reigning car class champion Carlos Sainz. Everything that could possibly go wrong for the Spaniard did go wrong. He got a puncture, got stuck in the sand, lost the way several times and, to cap it all, suffered gearbox problems towards the end of the stage.
Sainz’s bad day at the office means the gap between him and race leader Nasser Al-Attiyah (pictured, top) has now increased to a sizeable 12m 37s. With the Buenos Aires finish line on the horizon, Sainz is now hoping for a miracle if he's to make it back-to-back Dakar titles.
It's also one on the trophy in the bike class for Marc Coma after the Catalan rider took full advantage of a poor stage by Cyril Despres. After leading the stage, second placed Cyril cost himself time when he first lost his way and then got stuck in the tricky dry riverbed section.
After having his title challenge terminated last year with a series of heavy penalties, Marc now has an 18-minute lead to protect on the road to the Argentinian capital.
Team Kamaz kept their foot down as the 2011 Dakar left Copiapo and crossed the Andes once more. Vladimir Chagin’s fourth stage win of the year sees him leapfrog his team-mate Firdaus Kabirov. The Tsar (pictured, below) takes a 17m 27s lead to bed with him in Chilecito.
There was a sprint finish on the quads as the day’s first four riders finished within four minutes of each other. A little way back from the pack was race leader Alejandro Patronelli. The older brother of last year’s winner finished the stage in sixth place but still enjoys an advantage of over an hour from second placed Sebastian Halpern.
Spotlight on Red Bull riders
With two Dakar titles already under his belt, Marc Coma knows exactly what it takes to get the job done. After extending his lead on the route to Chilecito, we caught up with the current leader of the bike class...
“It was another difficult stage but we always knew that Fiambalá would be one of the hardest days of the race," says Coma.
“There was lots of navigation in the dunes but also the dry river bed section was just as complicated as anything. I got lost at one point but managed to find the right track and finish off decently.
“There are still two very hard days left and the last special to think about. Today’s win was good, but now we start to plan the next two stages.”
Dakar’s Just Deserts
Away from the action, the highlight of last year’s race was no doubt the thermal springs at Fiambalá. This time out, the 20 hot pools of Fiambalá were topped.
After crossing the border between Chile and Argentina along Paso de San Francisco, the temptation to stop off at Lago Verde proved too strong to resist.
The lake, measuring one square kilometre, sits high up in the Andes mountain range and is heated by molten lava kicking up a storm just under the Earth’s crust.
What’s bubbling under the surface may be the stuff to get a geologist’s rocks off, but simply taking a breather in the shallow end was enough to see me right for the rest of the day.
Word from the Waypoint
“Today didn’t go well for us at all. If Nasser doesn’t make any mistakes between now and the finish, it's all over.”
Is that the sound of Carlos Sainz throwing in the towel or is the Spaniard simply trying out a few mindgames ahead of the crucial last few stages?
Today’s Dakar Lucky Number: 33
Before the Dakar headed out of Copiapo, there was enough time for a very special meeting. Nasser Al-Attiyah and Luis Urzua, the 33rd and last miner to be rescued from the collapsed mine near Copiapo, came face-to-face. Just like everybody who meets Nasser, it seems Luis was suitably impressed: “Just like us miners, a team in the Dakar must work hand-in-hand. It's fantastic to see the race in my home town and to be able to meet Nasser is incredible.”