With a third special stage victory on the Dakar 2010, Francisco Lopez has stolen second place overall in the general standings from Pal-Anders Ullevalseter, the race still dominated by Cyril Despres as the event reaches just two days from the finish in Buenos Aires.
When they woke up this morning at the bivouac in San Juan, many of the bikers were not aware that the rankings for the previous day’s stage had undergone somewhat of a change. Late yesterday evening, the race stewards had in fact given time bonuses to the riders who opened the road and fell foul of incorrect indications set up by an Argentinean policeman after 13km.
It was a blow for Frans Verhoeven who saw victory slip away from him, and in the end it went to Marc Coma, making it his third consecutive success. Another consequence, of greater importance, was that Ullevalseter, the second placed rider in the general standings, was rejoined by “Chaleco” Lopez, with both riders on exactly the same time.
As a result, the stakes in the 12th stage soon became focused on the fight for second place, a battle played out over a matter of seconds between Lopez and Ullevalseter. The Norwegian rider was in the ascendancy on the first half of the route, which was quicker and better suited to the capacities of his 690cc KTM, even with the restrictor on.
After 363 kilometres, he even boasted a lead of 1’34’’ over his rival. However, during the sandy last 113 km to be covered, the little Aprilia belonging to “Chaleco” came into its own. At the finishing line, the Chilean won the fourth special stage of his career on the Dakar and the third this year. More importantly, he distanced Ullevalseter by 1’13’’. With two stages left before the end of the Dakar, a point that Lopez has never reached in three attempts, the minutes have never been as precious.
With the room for manoeuvre that he has built up at the front of the race, Despres was in a position where losing a few minutes was not a problem. As a result, the leader of the general standings concentrated on keeping his bike on the track, whilst maintaining a pace that would not affect his concentration. At San Rafael, he arrived at the bivouac 17 minutes later than his nearest rival, but nonetheless with a reassuring lead of 1 hour 3 minutes.