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Sainz takes Dakar lead after 33rd career stage win

Sainz powered into the overall Dakar Rally lead © AFP / FRANCK FIFE

NEOM, Saudi Arabia, Jan 7 – Spain’s two-time champion Carlos Sainz, driving a Mini, shot into the overall lead after winning Tuesday’s third stage of the Dakar Rally, his 33rd stage victory in the race being held this year in Saudi Arabia.

Sainz clocked 3hr 48.01sec around the loop-shaped 404km route setting out from the future megalopolis of Neom, in the north of the kingdom close to the Jordanian border.

Racing over a sequence of canyons and mountains on sandy terrain, climbing to this year’s summit at 1,400 metres (4,593ft) in altitude, the 57-year-old Sainz beat home Qatar’s defending champion Nasser al-Attiyah, in his Toyota, by 3:31.

“We finished the stage and today was a big day. We finished second,” said Attiyah, who suffered one flat tyre and described navigation as “difficult”.

“It was a good day and we’re second in the general standings overall. Tomorrow, I hope it will be a good day because I will start behind Carlos and we can get a good time.

“We just need to finish this week and then next week we can decide to push because there are a lot of dunes.”

After struggling Monday, Attiyah’s teammate and ex-Formula One driver Fernando Alonso came in fifth.

Overnight leader Orlando Terranova of Argentina and second stage winner Giniel de Villiers of South Africa both trailed in behind Sainz.

Mini’s Terranova not only lost the lead in the general standings but finished 12:52 behind the stage winner, while De Villiers was 16:21 off the pace in his Toyota.

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“It was really tricky navigation once more, but I managed to follow them quite easily, though, for sure, Nasser and Carlos were going really fast today,” the South African said.

In the motorbike category, American Honda rider Ricky Brabec dominated the stage to storm into overall lead.

Brabec finished almost 10 minutes ahead of teammate Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, in second, with a third Honda rider, Joan Barreda Bort, rounding out the stage’s podium.

Defending champion Toby Price of Australia, finished 35 minutes off the pace on his KTM.

The stage was marked by several falls, the most dramatic arguably by Frenchman Adrien Van Beveren, who lost control of his Yamaha and was pitched violently over the handlebars into the sand after just three kilometres. He received medical treatment on site, but was forced to withdraw from the rest of the race.

Wednesday’s fourth stage sees the rally leave northwestern Saudi Arabia, a 453km special on a mix of sandy stretches and gravel sections, mostly on tracks, past Nabaetean temples towards the historic walled city of Al Ula.

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