Frans Verhoven took a surprise stage win on day 9 of the 2009 Dakar Rally, while event leader Marc Coma lost less than two minutes to nearest rival Davide Fretigne.
Monday's stage saw the riders enter the Atacama desert, one of the most arid on the planet. The rote was a technical one, with stony tracks followed by coastal trails requiring strong navigation skills to avoid the many tracks heading towards the sea. After that the special went into the desert towards a zone full of dunes. The organisers announced yesterday that the final part of the special, 19 kilometres long with a long incline in a zone of dunes, had been cancelled.
The tricky navigation allowed those starting further down the field to catch the front runners - a situation that bought some relatively unknown names into the top 10.
KTM rider Verhoven won the stage after starting 33rd, with Frétigné reaching the finish 3min 9sec behind with local hero Francisco Lopez third. Rally leader Coma brought his Repsol KTM home in fourth place with factory team-mate Cyril Despres fifth.
The overall leader board thus remained remarkably static with Coma still over one hour clear of Fretigne's Yamaha, with Despres a further 30min behind.
“Today we had a typical technical leg in a Rally Raid, with a lot of navigation. One part was on a very technical terrain, similar to that in Morocco, and then through a zone along the coast, full of tracks that made it hard to see which one was the right one and which made the navigation really complicated,” said Coma.
“At the end we had a track that was a little more used, faster and a few kilometres of dunes at the end. In the end Cyril [Despres], Chaleco [López] and myself ended up together, until we reached a spot where because of the navigation we had to find a reference but couldn't, and Fretigné caught us up. We all formed a group and then somebody would get away but then we would catch them up, that made the leg much more fun.
“I used run-flat mousse tyres, and the truth is that the rear tyre is holding up well. It was a very technical leg, very sinewy, with a lot of cross-country and changes of track that did not let you pick up speed. Around Mendoza we went up to 3 000 metres and more, and you noticed it, but personally it did not affect me and I feel fine,” he concluded.
Tuesday's tenth stage will mark the rally's longest and difficult stretch with a loop that takes them from and back to Copiapo while they continue to tackle the world's driest desert of Atacama, taking in a 670 km special that climbs to just above 2400 m.
Organisers promise veritable mountains of sand, including a series of challenging dunes on the last part of the special. Riders are likely to face extreme temperatures during which reading the condition of the sand will be difficult, even for the top riders.
This is the most northern point of the rally in Chile after which the race then heads east and back into Argentina.
Argentina-Chile Dakar 2009 - Positions on SS9:
1. Frans Verhoven
KTM 6hrs 26m 33s
2. Davide Fretigne
Yamaha +0hrs 3m 9s
3. Francisco Lopez
KTM +0hrs 03m 40s
4. Marc Coma
KTM +0hrs 04m 59s
5. Cyril Despres
KTM +0hrs 06m 03s
Argentina-Chile Dakar 2009 - Positions after SS9:
1. Marc Coma
KTM 37hrs 4m 47s
2. Davide Fretigne
Yamaha +1hrs 04m 38s
3. Cyril Despres
KTM +1hrs 34m 38s
4. Francisco Lopez
KTM +1hrs 59m 19s
5. Jordi Viladoms
KTM +2hrs 08m 57s