Dakar Day 4: Disaster for Despres as Sainz shows the way


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Stage 4 of the 2014 Dakar saw Juan Pedrero take his maiden win at the end of a special which dealt Cyril Despres’ prospects a severe blow. The Frenchman slipped down the general classification after conceding over 40 minutes to his rivals. Carlos Sainz, who turned the race on its head after spending the entire stage on the attack, grabbed the win and leapfrogged Roma to take the overall lead.

After a few stages in which he had let Joan Barreda steal the limelight during Francisco “Chaleco” López decided enough was enough and pounded his fist on the table during the fourth special, part two of the motorcycles’ marathon stage. The Chilean rider pulled out all the stops from the beginning and led the way at each CP. Even though it was not good enough for a twelfth Dakar stage win, his strong ride allowed him to claw back lots of time. Meanwhile, Spain’s Joan Barreda lost precious minutes due to a navigation error, although he managed to limit the damage by pushing his motorcycle hard towards the end. He now holds a slim lead in the general classification, 3’10” ahead of Marc Coma, who produced a virtuoso performance in today’s stage. Just behind them on the course was Juan Pedrero, who showed he has outgrown his previous role as Marc Coma’s lieutenant at KTM by lighting the fireworks and bringing his Sherco across the finish line 29′ faster than López. The Catalan rider, no longer an overall threat, took his maiden Dakar win in Chilecito.

The fourth day of the 2014 Dakar was also a rude awakening for some of the big names, including the defending champion himself. Cyril Despres maintained an ideal pace throughout most of the stage but blew up with about 12 kilometres to go and could only watch as his rivals and other nearby riders disappear into the distance. The five-time winner now has a 41-minute deficit to Barreda in the general classification. With a history of amazing comebacks, it is too early to write Despres off, but his task has just become even more difficult than he had imagined. A real downer for sure, but Despres was still luckier than stage 2 winner Sam Sunderland, who had to give up after the engine of his Honda broke down.

The Matador gains the upper hand
Nani Roma set off from San Juan at 7:20 am local time, opening the road as the leader of the car category. Two timed sections (217 and 284 km, respectively) and a 157 km timed section later, the man at the wheel of the no. 304 Mini reached Chilecito as Carlos Sainz’s second-in-command in the general classification. The car race was turned on its head again as Carlos Sainz and his SMG buggy blasted the hierarchy established in yesterday’s puncture-marred stage into smithereens. The Spaniard went flat out from beginning to end to take his 26th Dakar win. No-one was able to match Sainz’s pace, with second place going to an astonishing Stéphane Peterhansel, who never gave up despite multiple punctures, and third place going to another daredevil, Nasser Al-Attiyah, 13’19” back.

The big loser of today’s stage was none other than Nani Roma, who lost the overall lead after finishing fourth, 14’08” behind his rival from Madrid. Although he is still very much in the race (second, 2’06” behind Sainz), today’s special laid bare Roma’s limitations. The narrow gaps at the top, with Al-Attiyah at 6’56” and the fiery Terranova at 13’08”, set the stage for a clash of titans, with Peterhansel (fifth at 18’10”) ready to bounce back into the fray.

The truck race saw another epic fight, with Gerard de Rooy coming out on top. The Dutchman’s 26th career win at the Dakar, his second this year, strengthens his grip on the lead. Nevertheless, his 26-minute margin still leaves the race wide open, especially for second-placed Marcel van Vliet. Even tiny problems can quickly become big when driving a truck.