Marc Coma has slowly been chipping away at Cyril Despres' lead and today during the 8th stage he finally managed to put himself back on top. Despres lost a lot of time in a muddy trap during today's stage and now trails the defending champion by 1 minute and 26 seconds.
Coma was able to avoid a muddy river bed as the Dakar riders made their way to Antofagasta, but Despres wasn't as lucky. Despres and Goncalves spent nearly 10 minutes trying to free themselves from the thick mud as Coma was able to sail to an easy stage victory.
"I was lucky not to lose too much time in the mud and then I saw I could open a gap, so I attacked really hard," Coma said. "But towards the end I noticed I had engine problems so I slowed down a bit to ensure I would make it to the finish. This is my 20th special victory: a nice figure. Yet it is not winning specials that counts, but winning the race. And I know there is still a long week of racing ahead."
The 8th stage makes it a close battle at the top. Despres has led the 2012 Dakar by as much as 13 minutes but now trails Coma by a minute and a half.
After Despres went into the trap, organizers rerouted the Dakar to avoid a massive pileup. The Race officials wrote:
"After several riders got stuck in the mud near km 10. Given that the route of the special was changed after the seventh motorcycle went through (in order to prevent the entire caravan from getting stuck in the muddy río), the race directors decided to deduct the time lost by Coma, Despres, Gonçalves, Rodrigues, Farrés Güell, Ullevalseter and Casteu from their final times. As a result, Marc Coma seized the lead with a 1'26" margin over Cyril Despres."
"There was a torrent of mud between the inspection of the reconnaissance car two days ago and today. Therefore, it did not appear in the road book and I was the first to fall into the trap. There was no way I could have avoided it. I am awaiting the organisers' decision: after Ullevalseter, Gonçalves and a few others had gone through, they took a detour, otherwise there would have been 200 vehicles trapped in the mud. So I fail to see why I and the others should be the only ones to pay the price."
Helder Rodrigues is currently the only other rider, besides Despres, to be riding within an hour of Coma. Rodrigues is currently 49 minutes behind Coma and 20 minutes ahead of David Casteu.