KTM's two leading factory riders, Marc Coma and Cyril Despres, both veterans and winners of previous Dakar rallies, were in a class of their own during stage 12 of the 2009 race.
The leg, shortened 40km by the organisers, connected the towns of Fiambalá and La Rioja. In total 213km of special, with an initial liaison of 4km and another of 261km at the end. The riders in the Fiambalá bivouac awoke to find heavy rain but there was no significant amount of mud during the whole day.
But it was still a difficult special, where navigation came to the fore during passes between ravines and gullies, as well as dunes and the feared white dunes, with a lot of tracks to choose from and cross-country sections.
Any mistake would likely result in a significant loss of time. Unfortunately that is what happened to Coma's Repsol KTM team-mate Jordi Viladoms. Viladoms began the day in fourth place and in the fight for a podium finish in Buenos Aires, but the first thing that Viladoms had to do was wait for Coma, who started in seventh place.
But they were only united for a few kilometers before being separated. Viladoms then made a navigational mistake and went into a ravine with Verhoeven, but had to retrace his steps and lost 32 minutes 40 seconds to the winner of the leg, Frenchman Despres. Viladoms finished fifteenth today and is now out of the fight for the podium, having slipped to seventh overall.
Coma had a far simpler day, finishing second on the stage to Despres to hold an overall lead of 1hr 29m 48s over the Frenchman, who has now overtaken compatriot Davide Fretigne (Yamaha) to claim the runner-up.
"The navigation was really difficult today, it was like a treasure hunt and it is always a pleasure when you find the right point," said stage winner Despres. "Then 3 or 4 kilometres from the end it got a little less fun with a modification to the road book that wasn't too clear and I lost some minutes. I heard Frétigné's engine at the first refuelling CP and it didn't sound too good so I guessed there was a good chance of getting the second place overall."
"It started to rain this morning at breakfast and we were a little bit worried what that would do to the special," admitted Coma. "Fortunately it wasn't too bad. There were some places where it was a little muddy, but nothing serious. The thing that made today difficult was the navigation - particularly at the end. I don't think the road book was wrong, just difficult to interpret. The sand was also very soft which didn't make life any easier!"
Friday's stage 13 links La Rioja and Córdoba, is the penultimate stage of the rally, and the last one that could be called decisive before the finish in Buenos Aires.
There is a first liaison of 161km then a special of 545km and then a second liaison of 47km. It is expected to be difficult; with a zone of fast tracks, the presence of dangerous cacti, tracks through many villages - where the speed has to be controlled - a lot of spectators and the ever-present radars.
Argentina-Chile Dakar 2009 - Positions on SS12:
1. Cyril Despres
KTM 3hrs 57m 37s
2. Marc Coma
KTM +0hrs 1m 23s
3. Gerard Farres
KTM +0hrs 9m 47s
4. David Casteu
KTM +0hrs 9m 51s
5. Francisco Lopez
KTM +0hrs 10m 16s
Argentina-Chile Dakar 2009 - Positions after SS12:
1. Marc Coma
KTM 47hrs 51m 30s
2. Cyril Despres
KTM +1hrs 29m 48s
3. Davide Fretigne
Yamaha +1hrs 33m 55s
4. David Casteu
KTM +2hrs 16m 13s
5. Helder Rodriges
KTM +2hrs 24m 04s