Saudi Al-Rajhi denies 'Mr Dakar' on marathon stage

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Toyota's driver Yazeed Al Rajhi of Saudi Arabia
Toyota's driver Yazeed Al Rajhi of Saudi Arabia
FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Toyota's Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi took the Dakar Rally marathon seventh stage honours on Sunday, the home hope denying Stephane Peterhansel, who nevertheless stretched his lead in pursuit of his record-extending 14th title.

Mini driver Peterhansel was on target to cross the line first at the end of the arduous 453km timed special featuring sand mountains between Ha'il and Sakaka.

But Al-Rajhi had other ideas, and with the benefit of his experienced co-driver Dirk Von Zitzewitz, an 18-Dakar veteran, he took command around 100km out.

He secured his first stage win in the event since 2015 and his Dakar debut with 48sec to spare over Peterhansel, with Carlos Sainz third at 1min 15sec.

"We did our best, although we suffered two punctures. We still managed to push hard," said Al-Rajhi.

In fourth came Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah, who is now 7min 53sec behind Peterhansel in the overall standings with last year's champion Sainz over 40 minutes adrift in third.

Peterhansel, 55, first competed in the Dakar in 1988, the year leader Ari Vatanen's Peugeot 405 was infamously stolen in Bamako, with a ransom for its return demanded. It turned up eventually, but too late for Vatanen.

Since then Peterhansel has made motorsport's toughest test an annual pilgrimage, and with 13 wins on both two and four wheels he has rightly earned his nickname 'Monsieur Dakar'.

He now has six podium finishes in seven stages in 2021 and will be hoping to get his first win of 2021 on the board on Monday's eighth stage which sees the Dakar travelling circus heading west from Sakaka to the Red Sea resort of Neom.

He was left ruing not being able to inflict further damage on his closest pursuers for the 2021 crown.

'Slip away'

"I hit a rock with 40km to go and broke a rim," Peterhansel reported.

"We spent a long time changing the wheel, it was quite hard. It's a pity because we were going quite fast at the intermediate time checks and we could have put more time into our rivals today, but we let the opportunity slip away."

In the motorbike category, champion Ricky Brabec took the seventh stage win in a time of 4hr 37mins 44sec.

The American, winner of the prologue, came in 2mins 07sec clear of Honda's Chilean rider Jose Ignacio Cornejo, the new overall leader.

But only by one second from Toby Price (KTM) with Sam Sunderland, the British 2017 champion, in third at 2min 11sec.

Overnight leader Xavier de Soultrait slipped to fourth, 2min 34sec off the pace.

Brabec is up to eighth, but still almost 15mins behind.

"There's five days left and we're gonna try just to finish in the top 7 every day and see if we can make up a little bit of time," he said.

Botswanan Ross Branch suffered a spectacular spill from his Yamaha early in the stage but thankfully escaped uninjured.

The seventh stage was coming to a close as the death was announced of Hubert Auriol, the first man to win on both motorbikes and cars.

Auriol, 68, who died after a long battle with heart disease, went on to manage the Dakar from 1995 to 2004.

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