Navigation was again as important as outright speed on Stage 10 of the 2011 Dakar Rally.
The stage had a similar affect on the overall standings in the Moto division, with mistakes from Cyril Despres allowing Marc Coma to pull further ahead after winning the stage.
While Special Stage 10 was a short one at just 176km, a 686km liason prior to the stage start ensured the day was another endurance test for the competitors.
Giniel De Villiers may have taken his first stage win on the Dakar since taking overall victory in 2009, but at the end of Stage 10 it was Nasser Al-Attiyah with the most to smile about.
The Qatari's overall lead grew from two minutes to 12 minutes courtesy of team-mate Carlos Sainz getting stuck in the sand at the 13km point and losing his way at the 100km point.
The duo finished the stage fourth and fifth respectively, behind de Villiers and the BMWs of K rzysztof Holowczyc and Stephane Peterhansel.
At the end of the stage, Sainz was left to rue his many difficulties.
“I lost a lot of time – I didn't have any luck today,” said Sainz.
“We got stuck at the beginning, then we took the wrong way two or three times.
“We also had a puncture and I broke the gearbox at the end.
“It didn't go well at all. If Nasser doesn't make any mistakes, it's all over”.
Al-Attiyah also lost his way during the stage, but recovered courtesy of team-mate de Villiers.
“We got lost for around 7 to 8 minutes,” said Al-Attiyah.
“After that we caught up with Stephane Peterhansel, and we tried to find the right way.
“Then suddenly I saw Giniel De Villiers's car and I tried to follow him. From then I said we must stay calm, take it easy and try and find the way.”
Peterhansel did well do beat home the two Volkswagens drivers, having lost time early stuck in a dry river bed.
The overall leaderboard remained unchanged despite the tumultuous day, with Al-Attiyah and Sainz leading de Villiers, Peterhansel, Mark Miller and Krzysztof Holowczyc.
Stage 10 for the motorcycles, and potentially the entire rally, was decided thanks to two navigational errors from Cyril Despres.
After pushing hard in the opening kilometers, the Frenchman led the way before taking the wrong valley in his approach to a portion of the dunes.
Heading left alongside Frans Verhoven, the pair found themselves navigating back an fourth across rocky ground, while Coma sped to victory.
Coma beat Despres on the stage by 10 minutes, and now holds an 18 minute lead in the overall standings.
“I made a first big mistake after 120 km whilst I was riding well,” said Despres.
“I read 17 instead of 117 on the navigation and I ended up in the rocks with Verhoeven.
“We already lost lots of time there, but then in the last few kilometres I made another mistake, turned round and fell into a mud hole.
“It was impossible to get back out, it took me ten minutes in all. I thought
“ I was going to lose even more time. It's a bad day, but that's rally raids for you, some days are good, some are bad”.
Despite holding the advantage with just three days remaining, Coma was cautious about predicting victory at the completion of the day's stage.
“There are two very hard days left and the last special to think about as well,” he cautioned.
“It's always good to win, but there are still two days.
“Today, it was good right from the start. I was behind to start with, but I managed to ride the fastest”.
Ruben Faria was third on the stage ahead of impressive Russian Miran Stanovnik, whose efforts made it four KTMs in the top four positions.
Francisco Lopez kept his third place in the overall standings by finishing fifth on the stage, despite suffering from fuel pump problems.
Faria has now closed to within five minutes of Helder Rodrigues in fourth overall, after the latter struggled with navigation for the third day in a row. Like yesterday, Rodrigues led for a large portion of the day, but came unstuck late in the going – losing half an hour trying to find the way.
Jacob Smith continued his fine run on the 2011 Dakar by taking 18th on Stage 10 – losing just 41 minutes to Marc Coma. The Honda 450 rider is now 39th in the overall standings.
His compatriot Simon Pavey suffered a disaster yesterday, arriving some eight hours behind the stage winner having suffered mechanical problems.
In the Auto division, Geoffery Ohlohm took 18th on the stage and now sits 27th overall.
Stage 11 of the 2011 Dakar Rally will take competitors back through the Argentina. The Andes mountains will dwarf competitors in the early part of the 622km stage.