After five of ten stages of the Tunisian Rally that takes riders 4,500 km through Tunisia and Libya, the cat and mouse game between KTM factory Marc Coma and Cyril Despres continues with Coma having a slight edge on the Frenchman at the half way mark.
But the two Dakar winners, who are so at home on the desert sands, were able to take a break on Monday with high winds and lack of visibility resulted in the cancellation of the second part of the two-day endurance stage.
Despres and Coma of Spain, who spearhead the KTM Rally factory riders, are well accustomed to being the leaders and each other's toughest opponent. The Tunisian Rally, the second stage in the FIM Rally-Raid world Championship, is no different and while Coma of Spain has a slight advantage after the fifth stage, Despres is close behind with less than four minutes difference between the two.
Mixed fortunes for Despres in opening two stages
Despres started strongly with a win in the Super Special on the beach at Tunis but he was to run into trouble in a shortened Stage Two when he was given wrong directions from an on-track official that cost him significant time. But thanks to a new GPS system that records rider positions in real time, organisers adjusted Cyril's time by almost seven minutes to put him back in second place behind Coma and David Casteu.
Coma takes things calmly
"This was a mix of fast tracks with others that were more technical, although because it has not rained as much here the tracks were in quite good condition. I think it is going to be a very tough race, so for the time being we are taking things calmly," Coma commented after Stage Two.
Cyril on the attack
Stage Three, with a long 356km special, then saw Cyril attack hard to win the special and trim Coma's lead and prompted him to express his delight on being back on African sand. "It's two years since I have ridden in Africa and I had forgotten what a pleasure it is!" Stage Four then saw Coma capitalise on a navigational error by Despres and Marc went on to win it and advance to an overall lead of around seven minutes.
Choice of mousse helps Cyril close the gap
Stage Five saw Cyril take a gamble and go out on a mousse rather than a tube. He decided to take the risk after studying the road book and calculating that he could better attack over the stony section and try to close the gap on Coma. It was the right choice with Cyril winning the special ahead of Pal Ullevalseter and just over four minutes ahead of Coma. "I am very happy. I took the risks that were necessary when it was needed and I closed the gap on Marc and reduced the time he has on me by half. It was really superb African special, very long and very intense," he said after the stage.
Coma too was satisfied with his progress so far, telling the media: "Today, I took it much more quietly, because I had a good advance in the overall. I tried to manage the first part of the stage marathon instead of attacking. I really liked his special.
The rally is due to conclude on May 2.