Antofagasta: Four-time Dakar motorcycling winner and defending champion Marc Coma claimed his first stage victory of the 2015 edition on Thursday, finishing the run to Antofagasta in Chile ahead of compatriot and overall leader Joan Barreda.
Just as he had done on the fourth stage on Wednesday, which crossed the Atacama desert, the driest place on earth, Chile`s Pablo Quintanilla took third spot.
On Thursday`s 458km fifth stage to the Pacific Ocean stop of Antofagasta, KTM rider Coma took 2min 16sec out of Honda rider Barreda`s overall lead.
But Barreda still boasts a lead of more than 10 minutes while Portugal`s Paulo Goncalves, also on a Honda, remains third in the standings after finishing fifth on the stage.
"It was a very tough stage. There was fesh-fesh all the time and in the fesh-fesh you cannot see the stones and it is not comfortable to ride," said Coma in reference to the fine sand that can clog machines and obscure views.
"You are always having to pay attention. It`s going to be very difficult to take time from Joan, but, you know, we have a lot of racing in front of us. There`s the second part of the rally and we`ll have two marathon stages.
"We will try like hell until the last day. We know that Joan is very fast and that he has a very high level, but we will try, for sure."
Spain`s Laia Sanz, the leading female rider, was 20th on the stage to stand at 12th overall after losing 26 minutes.
In the race for the title on four wheels, 2010 champion Carlos Sainz was virtually ruled out of contention after he lost more than nine hours on a disastrous stage on Wednesday which crossed the Andes from Argentina into Chile.
The two-time world rally champion suffered mechanical failure on his Peugeot buggy as the French team, making its Dakar return after 25 years, enfured another rollercoaster day.
Sainz was forced to pull off the track and wait for his support truck to arrive to repair the fault.
Eleven-time champion Stephane Peterhansel fared slightly better, ending the stage in fifth to move to 12th overall and keep Peugeot hopes alive even if the Frenchman was more than an hour behind race leader Nasser Al-Attiyah in the all-conquering Mini.