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The 2014 Dakar Rally entered stage 7 after the halfway break. Some racers continued to pad their lead, while others struggled with the long 500 km route that looped from Salta back into Salta.

Below is a great recap video from Dakar of the action at Stage 7.

High speeds throughout and a lot navigation made the twelfth stage of the Dakar, from Fiambala – Copiapo a tough one. Joan Barreda proved to be the best of the Husqvarna Team by Speedbrain taking third place on the day, and bringing the team its tenth podium place out of the twelve stages contested so far. Barreda, who led throughout the race made a slight navigational error which dropped him down into third place finishing just three minutes behind winner Verhoeven.

Alessandro Botturi, on the other hand, had a day worth forgetting. After holding seventh place for the first half of the race, the rider lost a lot of time looking for the way point. Botturi finished fourteen minutes behind the leader, but now runs the risk of being penalized with a one hour penalty for failure to pass Way Point 13.

Cyril Despres went into Stage 11 of the Dakar Rally on Thursday with the slimmest of overall margins just 21 seconds ahead of KTM factory teammate Marc Coma. At the end of the 534 km timed split section, Despres was first across the line and had extended his lead to 2 minutes 22 over his rival.

Given that the race is around 9000 km and there are still three stages to the finish, the competition is still wide open.

The two KTM riders, who are more than an hour in front of third-placed Helder Rodrigues of Portugal, are both aware that the slightest mistake can cost them their fourth title in the world’s toughest rally.  They have also now both won four stages each in this edition. Other KTM riders in the forefront of the action in today’s stage were Gerard Farres Guell of Spain who was just 1 minute 39 behind Despres in second place and Johnny Aubert, KTM Enduro factory rider, competing in his first Dakar Rally on a series model KTM 450 Rally Replica bike. Farres led the bikes for much of the day and Aubert had his best ever day so far finishing fourth in the stage.

So with the two lead riders so evenly matched, from the same team and riding the same factory bikes it is now largely a matter of tactics. Coma and Despres finished 2-3 in yesterday’s stage so Coma went out first. Despres shadowed his opponent all day and only went into the lead in the last part of the ride. It was the Frenchman’s thirtieth Dakar stage victory.

Despres said today was all about attacking. ”In the beginning there had been a modification to the road book and the tracks weren’t very visible. I rode 100 meters too far but then I saw Marc was turning round, even though he started two minutes in front of me. The day was a tough one and started with pushing the bike through a stream. It could be an important development to have someone between Marc and me. With Farres at second it’s not good for me. Tomorrow will be complicated, but anything can happen on the Dakar.”

That is exactly what will happen tomorrow on the second of four stages in Peru. Despres will have to open the road as the first out of the start gate, then Farres Guell, a friend and Spanish colleague of Coma’s will go off two minutes later setting up a possibility for the title holder to quickly gain on Despres. Coma will also be assisted by Aubert who moves up to be his support rider after his water carrier Joan Pedrero was forced to withdraw after Stage 10.

In the second stage of the 2012 Dakar Rally, from Santa Rosa de la Pampa to San Rafael, the Monster Energy X-raid Team kept on delivering, with French pairing Stéphane Peterhansel / Jean Paul Cottret (right) in their green MINI ALL4 Racing setting the second-fastest time behind Nasser Al Attiyah to take the overall lead. Krzysztof Holowczyc in the ORLEN MINI ALL4 Racing finished fourth behind Robby Gordon and right ahead of Spanish-French pairing Nani Roma / Michel Périn who came fifth, with the yellow MINI ALL4 Racing. Novitskiy and his German co-driver Andi Schulz took their orange MINI All4 Racing to eighth position, on day two, and the two Portuguese Ricardo Leal dos Santos and Paulo Fiuza completed the fine MINI All4 Racing result by securing ninth place.

Peterhansel and Cottret came close to even winning the second special stage. The French pairing held the special-stage lead for quite a while but in the end, their opponent from Qatar proved to be even quicker. Nonetheless, finishing second was enough for Peterhansel for taking the overall lead. “But it’s far too early to cheer about having taken the lead,” said the Frenchman. “After all, it’s just the second day and the gaps are small.”

For Poland’s Holowczyc and his Belgian co-driver, Jean-Marc Fortin, the second day proved to be a true roller-coaster ride. They held third position in the early stages and took the lead at the third checkpoint but at the end of the day, they had to settle for finishing fourth.

Right behind his Polish team-mate, Roma came fifth. For the Spaniard, the opening stages proved to be rather difficult as he had to pass several opponents. “Unfortunately, I lost a lot of time while trying to do so,” revealed Roma, “But I enjoy the event and am happy with my performance.” Dos Santos had to cope with the same problem: he had to pass several motorbikes before he could go for it on a free track.

The Chilean-French squad Boris Garafulic / Gilles Picard also secured a good result. They finished 19th, with their Vision Advisors BMW X3 CC.

The special stage was really demanding for the drivers. “We covered the first 140 kilometres in an hour,” said Peterhansel. “This demonstrates that we were really quick.” Afterwards, more dunes were waiting for the field. “There, you had to be really careful as you could easily get stuck, otherwise,” added the French. The final 60 kilometres of the special stage were extremely bumpy. “A rather tough test for us and our backs,” Jean-Marc Fortin said laughing. In addition, the track already took the field to 2000 metres above sea level, with the thin air making an impact on the engine performance.

Tomorrow, the third special stage will take the Team X-raid drivers to the first foothills of the Andes. The 270-kilometre special stage will feature a rocky track with many road holes and several water passages.

Result 2nd special stage:
1. N. Al Attiyah (QAT) / L. Cruz (ESP) Hummer – 2h 47m 18s
2. S. Peterhansel (FRA) / J.-P. Cottret (FRA) MINI ALL4 Racing – 2h 48m 12s
3. R. Gordon (USA) /J. Campell (USA) Hummer – 2h 50m 00s
4. K. Holowczyc (POL) / J.-M. Fortin (BEL) MINI ALL4 Racing – 2h 50m 49s
5. N. Roma (ESP) / M. Périn (FRA) MINI ALL4 Racing – 2h 51m 33s