"I'm proud of my performance in this complicated Dakar"
With five stage wins and a 6-hour, 22-minute penalty, Marc Coma has finished his eighth Dakar in an overall fifteenth place. He leaves behind over 9,000 kilometres ridden over 14 days of competition -almost 5,000 of them timed-, in a race marked by a polemic penalty on the rest day, which dashed all of the Spanish rider's hopes.
This year, Marc Coma has again proven that he is probably the fastest rider on the planet over any desert put in front of him, and overcoming the problems, penalties and polemic, he has finished a Dakar that, living up to its reputation, has once again been tough and demanding.
The 32nd edition of the Dakar has ended and that makes 8 for Marc Coma. Has it been one of the most difficult, especially on a psychological level?
“It has been a very tough Dakar. The conditions have been extremely adverse from the start, especially during the first week, as in the second, I managed to completely isolate myself from any unrelated issues and focus on riding. The truth is that with the help of the entire team, which supported me at all times, it has been easier, but of course it has been a very complicated race.”
Keeping focused when everything is going against you, and continuing to set a fast pace in spite of everything, I suppose that requires a lot of mental preparation…
“Yes, that's perhaps what I'm most proud of. How we've overcome such a tense situation, in a race that is already extremely tough. The team has helped me a lot, and I'm proud of having kept my head clear, because when it comes down to it, it's not easy to apply what you have previously prepared.”
How did you expect this year's Dakar to be and what have you actually found?
“We expected a tough race, more complete than last year's, but we didn't expect to have so many problems, from day one. Firstly a penalty, then Jordi Viladoms' fall, then the problems with the tyre mousse… We've had to swim against the tide at all times because to tell the truth, it seemed that they were out to get us from the first day.”
Does the Dakar need to go back to Africa from now?
“I don't know. We've just finished and we've tried to forget about anything that didn't affect our day-to-day, so to tell the truth, I haven't even thought about it.”
How would you explain the huge difference, over the last few years, between Després and you and the rest of the competitors?
“I couldn't tell you. It's a strange situation because there are some top class riders, but there is a difference and I wouldn't know how to explain it.”
Could you summarise the last race from the start, from the moment you left Buenos Aires, you were penalised for speeding, then you had to wait for a rear wheel, until you knew that you were going to be penalised?
“It was a first week to forget, in an atmosphere in which it seemed that they were out to get us. It was clear in the radar that on the first day I went over the speed limit and I don't have any complaints about that, but it is nonetheless true that there has always been a certain bit of leeway during the first few days. We however, had swim against the tide from the start. Then came Viladoms' accident, the problems with the mousse, Luca Manca's fall and the penalty. We've constantly had to get the situation back on track because it was one of those first weeks that you wouldn't believe it if they told you.”
The fact that your team mate Jordi Viladoms went out so quickly and Kniuman was too far behind to help you didn't help…
“Obviously not. I truly believe that we had set up a very good team, but being left without Viladoms in the race so quickly left the team very weak. The strategy was designed to have Jordi close and Kniuman behind, and without that intermediary step, the support was far behind that initially anticipated.”
What really happened on that Friday 8th January, during the Iquique-Antofagasta stage?
“It was a very strange situation. It was a long stage with a neutralisation halfway, so I took the first part little by little. In the neutralisation, I stopped to relieve myself and then people noticed my tyre, saying that it was in too good condition. We tried to mathematically prove that there was no irregularity, asking for the studs to be measured, but then they didn't want to do it.”
And when the news reached you in the bivac about what was happening with Race Organisers, what is the first thing that came to mind?
“Nothing, I was very relaxed because I knew that I hadn't changed the wheel and whatever they said, I wasn't concerned. When I saw that the Race Organisers where meeting, I started to worry a little, but we had a meeting in which I gave my explanations and I went to sleep with no worries, because they said that they would measure the studs to check it. Curiously, they then said that they couldn't measure them.”
Before the race there was talk about the situation of the 450s and the restriction of higher cylinder bikes. What did you see of this, do you think that there were huge mechanical differences in the end?
“Of course, because the flange has affected us a lot. In conditions of extreme heat and sand, the bike didn't work properly and we were very limited. It was even the cause of Jordi's [Viladoms] accident.”
And now what plans does Marc Coma have when he gets back to Spain?
“Rest. Disconnect as much as possible and reflect on what has happened.”