Sainz cuts into al-Attiyah’s lead in Dakar

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Sainz cuts into al-Attiyah’s lead in Dakar

COPIAPO, Chile - Defending champion Carlos Sainz won the ninth stage of the Dakar Rally on Tuesday, chopping almost 2 minutes off the overall lead of Volkswagen teammate Nasser al-Attiyah.

The 235 kilometer (146 mile) loop of the massive sand dunes around Copiapo was expected to favor new rally leader al-Attiyah of Qatar, but he punctured and Sainz led for most of the last special in Chile.

The Spaniard won his fifth stage of this Dakar, and the 22nd of his career, in 2 hours, 14 minutes, 39 seconds, seeing a lead of more than 3 minutes whittled down to 1:56 ahead of the hard-chasing al-Attiyah. Giniel de Villiers of South Africa ensured an all-VW podium by finishing third, 9:02 behind.

“I’m happy with my day, especially since dunes, desert and off-track terrain aren’t my favorite type,” Sainz said.

Overall, al-Attiyah, chasing his first Dakar title, led Sainz by 3:18 in a two-man contest heading to Sunday’s finish in Buenos Aires.

“I’m quite happy to finish today without any problems,” al-Attiyah said. “Tomorrow it will be very interesting because we start in second position. As the first car, you always lose time. I am sure tomorrow will be better for us.”

Jonah Street of the United States won his second ever Dakar motorbike stage, pulling in front on his Yamaha in the last 35 kilometers. Street won in 3:06:56, more than 3 minutes ahead of second-place Frans Verhoeven of Belgium, and another two seconds faster than David Casteu of France. Overall, Street was nearly four hours behind race leader Marc Coma.

Titleholder Cyril Despres of France was not able to take advantage of the mass start, and nine of the first 10 riders going the wrong way after only 20 kilometers.

Despres finished seventh, while Coma of Spain was ninth. Crucially, Coma was only a minute behind

Coma said his group of riders started in fog, making navigation difficult.

“In the first group we got lost, turning right when we shouldn’t have,” Coma said. “When we got back on track the second wave caught up with us. It was a bit of a mess. After that, a group of around 20 quick riders formed and we managed to ride the rest of the stage normally. But in the end it was a difficult day.”

Street said starting in the third group probably helped. Near the end of the stage he got caught in a dune and sailed over the handlebars - unharmed - he said.

“It’s awesome, totally awesome,” Street said. “It’s what we came here to do - to do the best we can. And first is the best you can do, so to win a stage is pretty special.”

Coma and Despres remain the only contenders for the motorbike championship.

Francisco Lopez Contardo of Chile was 23:33 behind in third. The 10th stage on Wednesday takes competitors back over the Andes and into Argentina, a short special lasting 176 kilometers.

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