San Juan, Argentina (AP) — Stephane Peterhansel will take a lead of nearly six minutes over fellow Frenchman Sebastien Loeb going into the last major stage of the Dakar Rally.
The Peugeot teammates have swapped the lead between them for the past week, and did so again on a drama-filled 10th stage from Chilecito south along the Andes to San Juan.
A day after the ninth stage was canceled because a massive landslide blocked a key road, Loeb began the day leading Peterhansel by only 98 seconds. Peterhansel wiped that out quickly but after only about 80 kilometers of the 450-kilometer special, he collided with biker Simon Marcic, who broke his leg, and waited with the Slovak for a medical team.
The third Peugeot of Cyril Despres took over the lead, and held it until near the end of the stage, when Loeb passed him and won by 2 1/2 minutes. Peterhansel came third, but was promoted to first when he was given back time lost for the incident with Marcic.
Peterhansel, the defending champion and record six-time car winner, ultimately led Loeb by 5:50 overall, with Despres in third 26 minutes behind. Former champion Nani Roma dropped from fourth to 10th, an hour back. Mikko Hirvonen, who was fifth overall before the stage, collided with a truck and broke his radiator, and limped home hours behind.
British biker Sam Sunderland was set to win and finish his first Dakar after extending his lead to 30 minutes, despite getting lost and having to backtrack early on in river beds.
Pablo Quintanilla, second overall, couldn’t take advantage of Sunderland’s navigational mistakes. He got lost himself, then fell off his bike and stopped after 400 kilometers because of dizziness. A medical team deemed him unfit to carry on, and the Chilean, third last year, was out.
Sunderland finished 12th behind stage winner Joan Barreda Bort, but advanced his lead overall to 30 minutes over Matthias Walker of Austria.
Sunderland abandoned the Dakar in the first week in his previous two attempts, and was still pinching himself to be so close to winning.
“It’s hard not to think about victory, of course,” he said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed about a lot and been working towards for a long time. I’ve never finished a Dakar and to finish my first one would be great, let alone to win. I’ll keep focused. We still have another day to go. I hope everything goes well. For sure, it’s a little bit stressful.”