/ 3 January 2011

Sainz wins first stage of Dakar Rally

Defending champion Carlos Sainz won Sunday’s first stage of the Dakar Rally, covering the 222km distance in two hours, 18 minutes, 32 seconds.

Sainz’s Volkswagen was 1:31 ahead of second-place Stephane Peterhansel in a BMW and 2:16 in front of Volkswagen teammate Nasser Al Attiyah. American driver Mark Miller was fourth, 4:17 behind.

Ruben Faria of Portugal took the stage in the bike category, clocking 1:58:02. He was 29 seconds ahead of defending champion Cyril Despres and had a 1:15 lead on Marc Coma, the 2009 champion.

Sainz managed a stage victory without having a good day.

“For about 20km, we had a lot of rain,” he said. “At times we just could not see anything. Moreover, I had issues with the wipers that had stopped working. I am really happy the day is over. It was a bit like the Rally of Great Britain.”

Faria also seemed surprised to have been a winner.

“I did better today than many great riders with different driving styles,” Faria said. “It’s already a good point of reference.”

Despres took the wet, slippery day in his stride.

“It was a great warming-up exercise — a winding route, big sliding sections, a mix between skiing and riding,” Despres said. “I am in good shape. … In the beginning of a Dakar, one always wonders: is this going to change much? Even if we tested our bikes, a Dakar will always be a Dakar. The race is on now and staying focused is of the essence.”

Sunday’s first stage from Victoria to Corboda in northern Argentina followed the ceremonial ride from Buenos Aires to Victoria on the opening day. Officials said 407 contestants started the race on Sunday, down from the 430 who were enrolled on Saturday.

Dakar is being held for the third straight year in Argentina and Chile. This year’s route covers 9,500 kilometers, reaching the Atacama desert in northern Chile — one of the driest places on earth — before heading back for the January 16 finish in Buenos Aires. – Sapa-AP