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Deluge swamps Dakar title hopefuls

Race stopped at 88km mark after river swells with water

Gulf News

Tucuman, Argentina: Torrential rain brought chaos to the Dakar Rally on Saturday after rivers overflowed and tracks were blocked on the eighth stage between Salta and Tucuman.

David Castera, the race director, said stewards would meet to decide on the next step.

The race had been stopped at the 88-kilometre mark when a riverbed on the course swelled with water.

At that time, 2011 champion Nasser Al Attiyah, who started the day in second place in the overall standings, was 13sec ahead of America’s Robby Gordon with overall leader Stephane Peterhansel, the defending champion, three minutes behind.

But as the storms worsened, al-Attiyah got stuck and then watched several of his rivals disappear into the distance.

Guerlain Chicherit reached the finish in the fastest time with Peterhansel over 12 minutes behind while Al Attiyah was left sweating on his fate as the stewards conferred.

“Everything was going smoothly for us, we were putting the pedal on the metal, and everything was fine,” said Al Attiyah. “When we got to the river, there were three metres of water, there was no way we could cross that. So we called the organisers, who told us the stage had been neutralised at CP2.”

Peterhansel, who was fifth fastest at the end of the stage, said that if the stage was neutralised at the check point, he would not be too concerned as he had lost nine minutes in the early exchanges.

“One of the riverbeds was quite full when we went by and apparently they wanted to neutralise the stage at CP2,” said the 10-time winner of the event. “This wouldn’t be bad news for me, as it would neutralise our navigational mistake and we’d only concede the time lost head-to-head on the course.”

David Casteu took the overall lead in the rain-hit motorcycling section after long-time leader Olivier Pain endured a miserable eighth stage.

Joan Barreda Bort claimed the 183km timed run in 2hr 7min 26sec, ahead of the American Johnny Campbell, who was 7min 4sec behind, with Slovakia’s Ivan Jakes in third, 7min 57sec off the pace.

Torrential rain led to the early part of the planned stage, which had been set for 492km, being cancelled.

Casteu, on a Yamaha, has a 9min 26sec overall lead over defending champion Cyril Despres and an 11min 16sec advantage over Portugal’s Ruben Faria.

Pain finished more than 30 minutes off the pace and is now fifth overall, 16min 10sec behind Casteu in the race for the title.

Pain was one of a batch of riders who got lost at the 122km stage.

“A huge navigational success,” said Casteu. “I’m over the moon because it’s difficult to ride at the front while attacking and keeping your bearings, navigating. I was able to keep my cool while everyone else was spinning around, but I stayed focused and was the first across the line.”