Dakar Rally leader Al-Attiyah wins penultimate stage

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Mini driver Stephane Peterhansel and co-driver David Castera, both of France, work on their vehicle after an accident during stage nine of the Dakar Rally in Pisco, Peru, Wednesday, Jan. 16. (AP Photo/Carlos Jasso, Pool)

Lima, Peru (AP) — Nasser Al-Attiyah won the penultimate stage to extend his Dakar Rally lead to nearly an hour on Wednesday, and rider Toby Price finished with his main rivals to keep the motorbike lead in Peru.

Once again, Al-Attiyah avoided the trouble his other rivals found on the 313-kilometer, four-hour loop in the dunes around Pisco.

Stephane Peterhansel, the most successful driver in the world’s toughest rally, quit 26 kilometers in when co-driver David Castera hurt his back. It’s the first time in 10 years that the 13-time champion has abandoned the race, and only the fourth time in 31 years. He was fourth overall at the time.

Sebastien Loeb, third overall, was gunning for a fifth stage win until his transmission broke about 60 kilometers from the finish. Then his spare broke 40 kilometers out. He lost more than an hour and remained third on the stage, but overall fell two hours behind Al-Attiyah.

Cyril Despres took over the stage lead but flipped his car about 20 kilometers from the finish. By the time help came, he’d lost 39 minutes.

That left Al-Attiyah able to play it safe, and he won the stage by five minutes from Nani Roma to extend his lead over in the general standings to 51 minutes. He looks set to celebrate a third Dakar victory on Thursday after the short drive into Lima.

“Every day we work very hard to be fast and not make mistakes,” Al-Attiyah said. “Me and Mathieu (Baumel, co-driver), the team, work very hard to keep our car fit. The buggy is a good car. We’ve followed our strategy from the beginning. We’ve been leading since stage three and building up the (gap) every day. We’re quite happy.”

The motorbike drama started before the stage. British rider Sam Sunderland, the 2017 champion in title contention at fourth, was penalized an hour. Argentine rider Kevin Benavides, in the top 10, was penalized three hours. Then Adrien van Beveren, fifth overall, suffered a broken engine with 16 kilometers to go and was out.

That left a clear top three of Price, Pablo Quintanilla, and defending champion Matthias Walkner, all within six minutes of each other. But nobody attacked. From a mass start, they rode together and finished together — behind stage winner Michael Metge of Argentina — and retained their overall positions.

Walkner said there was chaos when the first rider got lost, and the race leaders followed him. Nobody then wanted to take a risk.

“It seemed an easy day, but it wasn’t. There was more to lose on a day like this than to win, so I just tried to stay with the top guys in front and do nothing stupid,” Walkner said. “The chance for the podium is quite good.”

Price was content. The 2016 champion is nursing a sore right wrist.

“I know it’s going to be very hard tomorrow, and I’ll give it my best,” Price said. “I know I’m likely to be on the podium tomorrow, and it’s amazing, but I want to win.”

Quintanilla, only a minute behind Price, promised to “give it my 100 percent to win the race” for his first Dakar title.