It has been an action packed-opening few days of the gruelling Dakar Rally in South America.
Frenchman Cyril Despres (pictured above) won the motorcycle stage on day three of the Dakar Rally and claimed first place overall after a navigational error by defending champion Marc Coma, of Spain.
New Zealand’s Chris Birch arrived at Waypoint 1 in 23rd position, but by the end of the 270km special stage he was at 38th. This has moved him down slightly to 34th overall after day three.
He will still be happy with this as there are still 11 more race days to go and, so far has had no major problems.
Birch said it was the best day he has had yet and lots of fun.
Meanwhile, French motorcyclist Sebastien Coue was in critical condition after crashing during the second stage. Coue was found in sand dunes in western Argentina, and hospital officials said it was not clear how long he had been unconscious and exposed to temperatures above 40 degrees C.
The Dakar Rally, considered one of the most dangerous in motor sports, has already claimed three lives this year. Argentine bike rider Jorge Martinez Boero died in a crash in Sunday’s first stage. On the same day, the pilot of an ultralight plane and his son died when the aircraft went down while following the race.
Car driver Joan Roma, of Spain, won the 208-kilometre, high-altitude special from San Rafael to San Juan in 2 hours, 26 minutes, 51 seconds. He was 1:09 ahead of Polish team-mate Krzysztof Holowczyc and 1:29 in front of last year’s winner, Nasser Al-Attiyah in a Hummer.
For Roma, it was only his third stage win in a car but his 15th in race history.
Holowczyc led the overall by 54 seconds from American Robby Gordon in a Hummer. Giniel Devilliers of South Africa, the 2009 champion, was 1:40 behind in third in a Toyota.
In bikes, Despres took the 270-kilometre special stage in 3:48:38. He finished 8:37 in front of Frans Verhoeven of the Netherlands, and 8:39 faster than Portuguese Paulo Goncalves.
More importantly, Despres was 10:12 ahead of his biggest rival, KTM team-mate Coma. The leader after stage two, Coma took a wrong turn after more than 160 kilometres and had to backtrack for 16 kilometres, losing 13 minutes, and finished in seventh place.
“Yesterday was my day but today definitely wasn’t,” Coma said.
Despres said: “It’s good for my position, even if I’m never happy about other people’s setbacks.”
In the overall standings in bikes, French rider David Casteu was third, 17:16 behind.
The fourth consecutive Dakar in South America is different to the first three, which featured loop courses from Buenos Aires to Chile, and then back to Buenos Aires. This year the race begins in Argentina, passes through Chile, and finishes in Lima, Peru, on January 15.