Today the real 2010 Dakar started, with the rally leaving the WRC-esque gravel tracks of the first two days behind and striking out into the desert with a 182 km stage, the shortest scheduled for the two week event.
The first visitations of sand also saw the first appearance of a KTM atop the stage podium, with the heavy, but restricted, 690cc machines gliding though the early dunes with relative ease, and certainly none of the problems many expected them to face compared to the new 450cc bikes brought in this year.
That left the way almost completely open to 2007 winner Cyril Despres to take a stranglehold on the stage, beat Portuguese Helder Rodrigues’ 450 Yamaha by over 10 minutes and finishing twelve minutes clear of David Casteu’s Sherco machine as Despres took a commanding ten minute lead over his French countryman.
“This is one of those stages when you set out in the morning and you think to yourself, ‘Okay, 180 km, that will be easy,” said Despres. “But there you are, we’ve just spent three hours battling on the bikes. It was a really African-like stage: physically tough with the heat, soft dunes and mechanical aspects to deal with.”
Despres domination was, however, at the expense of several who could have challenged his Red Bull sponsored charge.
Yesterday’s stage winner David Fretigne dropped over 90 minutes to Despres after a problem on the stage, while the woes continued for Spanish KTM teammates Marc Coma and Jordi Viladoms.
Coma, trying to regain some of the 22-minute penalty he landed yesterday led the stage early on, but ended losing a further 21 minutes to Despres due to his engine cutting out. The Spaniard stopped under a tree in the heat to allow the engine to cool, where he was joined by David Casteu, the Sherco suffering electrical problems.
Viladoms fared worse, crashing his bike 70 km into the stage and complaining of chest pain, apparently after hitting the handlebars of his KTM in the crash. With safety in mind he was airlifted to the campsite at the end of the day’s stage, where although doctors found no major injuries he has been kept for observation. The end result? Rally over for Jordi Viladoms.
The Quad class also saw it’s first notable retirement today as another of yesterday’s winners, Hubert Deltrieu, saw his rally come to an end after a crash only 21 km into the stage, him joining Viladoms in being taken to the campsite.
With Deltrieu out and problems continuing to hound defending winning Josef Machaecek today’s quad race was a strictly Argentinean affair as riders from the race’s co-hosts dominated the stage.
30-year-old Yamaha rider Sebastian Halpern, who started the day sixth overall, led the charge, holding the fastest time through most of the short stage, his advantage stretching out to 12 minutes after the main sand section of the stage.
However, as the stage ended over rocky terrain more similar to the previous two stages the Patronelli brothers, Marcos and Alejandro reeled Halpern’s lead, though ultimately falling short, Marcos finishing two minutes adrift of the privateer, though five minutes clear of his older brother, who was followed home by two more of their countrymen to lock out the top four on the day.
But there was another recognised Dakar star in the lead in the cars. This time it was Stephane Peterhansel, winning the 52nd stage of his Dakar career (which spans bikes and cars) as he led the VW versus BMW battle all stage chased by the Race Touaregs of erstwhile overall leader Nasser Al-Attiyah, then Carlos Sainz, the double World Rally champion falling five minutes short at stage’s end.
Al-Attiyah slipped back to third, ahead of American Mark Miller and BMW driver Guerlain Chicherit.
But, like in the bike and quad races there were problems for the big names. Adding to yesterday’s roll off the road Nani Roma had another off today, the official Dakar site describing him as having "driven into a hole". Early reports said both Roma and his co-driver Michel Perin were unhurt, and simply waiting for the teams support truck yo continue. However, it was later reported that Roma had broken his hand and had been forced to abandon his challenge for the title.
Also waiting for the team back-up truck (at the time of writing) is 2009 winner Giniel de Villiers, whose VW diesel engine suffered major problems only 50 km into the stage.
Of more mysterious origins were the problems that affected VW driver Mauricio Neves and Robby Gordon’s Hummer, as the lost 66 and 54 minutes respectively to Peterhansel.
The Truck stage was once more a battle between the Kamaz's of Vladimir Chagin and Firdaus Kabirov, with Kabirov briefly leading his more experienced counterpart before Chagin, known as 'The Tsar' took the lead again. The stage also saw the best run for former F1, touring car and sportscar driver Jan Lammers, the Dutchman in the top five stage times until the closing miles, finishing eighth and rising to tenth overall.
UPDATE: After a tough stage, as Cyril Despres talks about above, there are still dozens of competitors still on the stage, including nearly forty bikers (over ten hours since the last one left the start of the stage) and eighty cars. It is likely that organisers will choose to delay or shorten tomorrow's planned 203km stage.
Stage Three Results
1. Cyril Despres (KTM) 3h01:09
2. Helder Rodrigues (Yamaha) +0h10:40
3. Paulo Gonçlaves (BMW) +0h12:09
4. David Casteu (Sherco) +0h12:13
5. Francisco Lopez Contardo (Aprilia) +0h17:05
1. Stephane Peterhansel (BMW) 2h55:09
2. Carlos Sainz (VW) +0h05:44
3. Nasser Al-Attiyah (VW) +0h10:01
4. Mark Miller (VW) +0h10:14
5. Guerlain Chicherit (BMW) +0h19:18
1. Sebastian Halpern (Yamaha) 4h13:24
2. Marcos Patronelli (Yamaha) +0h02:08
3. Alejandro Patronelli (Yamaha) +0h07:27
4. Jorge Miguel Santamarina (Can-Am) +0h09:20
5. Brice Auert (Can-Am) +0h25:03
1. Vladimir Chagin (Kamaz) 3h26:53
2. Firdaus Kabirov (Kamaz) +0h11:56
3. Andre De Azevedo (Tatra) +0h37:08
4. Ilgizar Mardeev (Kamaz) +1h20:07
5. Marcel Van Vliet (Ginaf) +1h27:04
Overall Results After Stage Three
1. Cyril Despres (KTM) 8h54:04
2. David Casteu (Sherco ) +0h10:03
3. Helder Rodrigues (Yamaha) +0h17:75
4. Luca Manca (KTM) +0h24:29
5. Alain Duclos (KTM) +0h30:58
1. Stephane Peterhansel (BMW) 9h:14:28
2. Carlos Sainz (VW) +0h04:33
3. Nasser Al-Attiyah (VW) +0h07:31
4. Mark Miller (VW) +0h13:12
5. Krzysztof Holowczyc (Nissan) +0h41:38
1. Marcos Patronelli (Yamaha) 10h53:38
2. Alejandro Patronelli (Yamaha) +0h04:21
3. Sebastian Halpern (Yamaha) +0h10:12
4. Jorge Miguel Santamarina (Can-Am) +0h23:48
5. Juan Manuel Gonzalez (Yamaha) +0h28:33
Trucks : (After Stage Two)
1. Vladimir Chagin (Kamaz) 7h10:54
2. Firdaus Kabirov (Kamaz) +0h06:47
3. Andre De Azevedo (Tatra) +0h26:34
4. Ilgizar Mardeev (Kamaz) +0h27:06
5. Marcel van Vliet (Ginaf) +0h35:18