Stage 10 of the Dakar included a seriously difficult loop through the high Atacama Desert from and back to the base town of Copiapo. The route ranged as high as 2,400 metres and varied in terrain from nasty rocky bits to "mountains of sand dunes," which were compared by more than one rider to those of Mauritania in the Dakar’s original African incarnation.
The official rally notes, indeed, claim this long 670.16 special stage to be the most difficult of the rally.
The difficulty of the section (and of the navigation – many of the overall leaders got lost more than once, to their chagrin) saw a number of new faces at the top of the stage postings. First went to Spain’s Jordi Viladoms (factory Repsol KTM), his first stage victory this year (and only his second in his Dakar history). He finished just ahead of Alain Duclos (KTM) (who styles his nationality as "Franco-Malian"), followed a few minutes later by Portuguese Helder Rodriguez (KTM).
However, Rodriguez was bumped down to fourth when Norway’s Pal Anders Ullevalseter was awarded a time bonus to make up for his stopping to aid Chile’s Franciso Lopez after a big crash (Lopez was okay).
You’ll no doubt be surprised to hear that both Rodriguez and Ullevalseter were on KTMs …
The overall standings didn’t change much, as Marc Coma is still in command, with David Frétigné on his Yamaha still second and Cyril Depres still third. Viladoms, however, has clawed his way up to fourth with his stage victory on Tuesday.
Coma said, "A very tough stage … very complicated. I drove quietly in the first kilometers because I knew that the stage was very long and that I might have problems with my tires. Then, it got really complicated with navigation. I misinterpreted a note and lost a lot of time. Then I found the right pace in the part I found the most difficult part to ride in my entire life (our emphasis). I am glad I did. It was important to spend a day like this not losing one’s head. It is the kind of stage that leaves its toll on the rally like the Tourmalet stage does in the Tour de France, in cycling."
Viladoms, of course, was delighted: "This stage was really impressive. I started from the back, at my own pace. When I reached the last pit stop, I saw that Marc (Coma) was no longer there. I didn’t know if something happened. I thought he could have had a problem. And in the last 10 km, it became completely crazy. I was riding with Coma, Despres and Duclos. When I reached the end and when I saw that I could follow Marc and Cyril, all my concerns disappeared. It feels really good and I’m satisfied."
On the car side, the VW Toureg panzer division rolls on, although American racer Robbie Gordon with co-driver Andy Grider in their Hummer nearly won the stage, just being pipped by Sainz and Perrin in the last couple of checkpoints.
Wednesday’s section is going to be seriously mountainous, crossing the Atacama one-way this time, then up and over the Andes and back into Argentina. Lots of fast gravel and rock areas to cover, apparently. Tuesday saw another nine riders forced out, so the attrition is still pretty heavy.