Sainz, Despres still lead Dakar Rally

Carlos Sainz and motorcyclist Cyril Despres continued to lead the Dakar Rally after the longest stage, a brutal 600km on sand, stones and salt through the Atacama Desert on

Sainz, the two-time world rally champion from Spain, was content to let Volkswagen teammate Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar grab some glory on the seventh stage from Iquique to Antofagasta in northern Chile.

Al-Attiyah won in five hours, 41 minutes, 29 seconds, nearly three-and-a-half minutes ahead of Stephane Peterhansel’s BMW, and 4,21 up on
third-placed Sainz.

“I am happy because this stage was very long and hard,” Al-Attiyah said. “There was a lot of navigation. At the end of the 150km we were behind Carlos and it was tough for us. When we started the second part of the special stage, I tried to push a bit and took a chance.”

Al-Attiyah’s sixth stage victory lifted him above VW
teammate Mark Miller of the United States into second place overall, 11,03 behind Sainz. Miller was another 22,06 behind.

Peterhansel, the nine-time winner from France, remained just over two hours off the pace in fifth place.

Two-time motorbike champion Despres appears to be unstoppable.

He won the stage on his KTM in 6:34,14, only 29 seconds ahead of defending champ and teammate Marc Coma of Spain. The Frenchman leads Coma by 1:06,50 in the overall standings, an improvement of 25 minutes over the sixth stage.

Saturday’s day off — the rally’s only rest day — will be welcomed by everyone, particularly Despres, who said he lost his shock absorbers after hitting a ditch with about 150km to go.

“I took all the shocks in my arms, my wrists, my neck,” he said.

“It was really hard before, but it became close to unbearable at this point. The bike did not suffer despite the loss of hydraulics.

I will have to look at all the screws and bolts, but the bike took me here and that’s good.”

Italian motorcyclist Luca Manca remained in critical condition after being airlifted to a hospital in Santiago following a crash on Thursday in which he sustained life-threatening head injuries.

Dr Alberto Munoz, head of the intensive care unit in Mutual de Seguirdad Hospital, said Manca’s condition had improved slightly but that he would remain in an induced coma for at least five days
to control swelling on the brain.

Munoz said the 29-year-old Manca was breathing with the aid of a respirator but was unable to respond to external stimulation. Munoz said it was impossible to know what neurological damage the
accident may have caused.

“He’s pretty good and stable given his critical condition,” Munoz said.

Sunday’s eighth stage goes south through the desert from Antofagasta to Copiapo. Following that the rally heads further south to the capital Santiago before turning east to Argentina.

The Dakar was moved to South America in 2009 because of the possibility of a terrorist attack in Africa. – Sapa-AP

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