News 14 Jan 2010

Rally: BMW's Verhoeven takes surprising Dakar stage win

The 2010 running of the Dakar Rally bid Chile farewell after seven special stages and said hello again to Argentina for a tough home straight leading to Buenos Aires today.

In the bike race, a navigation error put a halt to the fine series of triumphs by KTM’s Marc Coma, instead Dutchman Frans Verhoeven was victorious in giving BMW an unexpected win on the rally while Cyril Despres keeps hold of the lead in the general standings.

After a very early awakening followed by a journey through the Andes via the Paso Libertadores pass, at an altitude of 3500 metres, the Dakar’s bikers tackled a 220km special similar to the previous day’s stage – fast along winding tracks and for the most part downhill.

In these conditions, with Coma opening the road, it was not unreasonable to predict another success for the Catalan. However, a bad navigation mistake put paid to that. After 13km he carried on straight ahead instead of turning right, meaning he rode for 3km in one direction and then3 km in the other before rejoining the correct route, losing around a 12 minutes to the quickest riders at CP1 (after 51km). The competitors just behind him made the same mistake, but since they saw the Spaniard backtracking, they were able to limit the damage.

The ninth biker to start this morning, American Jonah Street, who has been rather discreet since the beginning of the rally (never featuring in the top 5 of a special), did not make the same directional error. As a result, he achieved the best time at CP1 but had a lead of only seven seconds over the whirlwind Verhoeven on his BMW, who is finishing the rally in a much better way than he started.

This duel carried on right until the finishing line. In the end, it was Verhoeven who was victorious by three seconds. The ‘Flying Dutchman’ picked up his third stage win on the Dakar after his successes in Puerto Madryn and Copiapo last year. This victory could go a long way to helping the BMW rider forget the setbacks he suffered during the fist two stages. For statistics fans, the last victory by a BMW bike on the Dakar dates back to 2001, at a time when a certain Despres won in Tambacounda.

Pal Anders Ullevalseter was the big winner of the day in his quest for a place on the podium. The Norwegian finished in fourth place on the day, behind Alain Duclos, strengthening his second place in the general standings with a lead that now stands at 2’40 over Francisco Lopez and more importantly almost 10’ over Rodrigues, who encountered plenty of navigational problems. Coma eventually finished the day more than 5’ behind the stage winner.

The leader in the general standings, Despres, once again did the necessary to protect his lead. The Frenchman, on a KTM, maintains a 1 hour 20 minute lead over Ullevalseter.