Peterhansel strengthens his lead in Dubai
Roma with stomach problems finishes third. The battery plays a dirty trick on Coma who finished third ahead of Duran who was sixth.

After the short and spectacular prologue stage of yesterday, the real challenge started today in Dubai with the first leg of the UAE Desert Challenge 2005, starting in Abu Dhabi and finishing in Moreeb. Repsol driver Stephane Peterhansel took the victory in the car class after the 283 km special on a mainly sandy track, while his team-mate Nani Roma was third. Cyril Desprès won in the bike class, while Marc Coma, who had trouble with the battery of his KTM, finished third ahead of his team-mate Jordi Duran, who was sixth.

Mitsubishi Motors Repsol Team driver Stephane Peterhansel cruised today into a 26-minute lead in the overall standings. The twice Dakar Rally and UAE Desert Challenge winner and co-driver Jean Paul Cottret, led from the start of the stage and smoothly covered the 282.70 kms of today's special. Things were however more complicated for their team-mate Nani Roma. The Spaniard lost time getting stuck with his Mitsubishi Montero Evolution in the soft sand before the first passage control. Later, Roma was forced to stop twice overcome by stomach problems and sickness, of which he fortunately recovered to finally cross the finish line in third position, half an hour behind the leader.

In the motorbike class, Marc Coma was set back by a battery problem in his bike. The Repsol KTM Team rider stopped to refuel and had problems to turn on the bike again. Fortunately he was able to continue until the end of the stage where he decided not to stop and directly continue with the 75 kms liaison to the bivouac. As a consequence, Coma did not loose much time with regard to Casteu, but Desprès is already more than 10 minutes ahead. Teamwork was essential and to avoid larger damages, Jordi Duran followed his team-mate from start to finish. In the end, Coma and Duran crossed the finish line in Moreeb in third and sixth place respectively. Duran was penalised with five minutes for covering the last liaison stage in a longer time than permitted. Now the team is working to find exactly what the source of the problem was and solve it for tomorrow's stage.

Tomorrow is the second leg of this year's UAE Desert Challenge and teams will tackle two timed selective sections in a loop-stage format around the Moreeb bivouac, near Liwa. The opening section will run for 134 kms and the second longer selective of 210 kms will return teams to the finish control just outside the bivouac.

Stephane Peterhansel: "I would not say the stage was any harder than last year, but it was not easy. It was very fast at the beginning. There was a fast track, with some dune crossings, but the sand was not too soft and I found the day quite okay. I have a really good feeling about the car. The engine, the suspension, the balance, they all feel really good."

Nani Roma: "I made a small mistake and lost a few minutes stuck in the soft sand before the first passage control, but then I started to feel unwell. It was terrible. I had cramps in my stomach and there was no alternative but to stop. I stopped on two occasions."

Marc Coma: "The problems we had today have really been a shame. I had to change the battery twice. First at the refuelling, when the bike stalled for the first time and then after the special, 10 km from the bivouac. Jordi had to give me his battery so I could get to the finish. Now the mechanics are changing the whole electrical system and let's hope that the problem will be solved for tomorrow. In addition to the mechanical problem, it has been a psychologically very hard stage because there were parts that made us feel really nervous, where we had to watch out a lot. But it's been a nice special, with some dunes and I felt really good. As regards the times, I think that I've probably lost some 10 minutes but I hope to recover them tomorrow."

Jordi Duran: "It's been a hard day but I'm happy with the job done. That's what it is about, helping Marc to take the title, although it seems that it's resisting. I took the start ahead of him today but he got me immediately. I tried to follow him, but he was pushing hard and escaped. When we arrived at the refuelling the battery started making trouble and I caught-up with him again. From then on we continued together. After the finish of the special, some 10 or 15 kms before the bivouac, Marc's bike stalled again and we decided that he should take my battery to get to the finish. I stayed there with his and waited until some other rider passed to give me some power to continue. I hope that the problems do not show up tomorrow as well."

Jordi Arcarons: "We don't know what happened yet, but it seems that we're having the same problem as in Egypt. The battery runs down and the bike stops. We don't know whether the battery doesn't charge well nor if there's an electrical problem interfering. We are using the same bike we used in Egypt, but after the incident the bike was completely dismantled and some components were changed. We don't know where the problem is, but we are working on it now, because we cannot continue like this, it would be much too complicated."

<pre> Car standings after leg 1 (unofficial): 1. S. Peterhansel , J-P. Cottret 2h 37min. 37sec. 2. J-L. Monterde, T. Siviero 3h. 03min. 03sec. 3. J. Roma, H. Magne 3h. 07min. 11sec. 4. Y. Al-Helai, K. Al-Kendi 3h. 20min. 01sec. 5. A. Bin Soughat, J. Al-Balooshi 3h. 26min. 39sec.

Motorbike standings after leg 1 (unofficial): 1. C. Desprès 2h. 59min. 11sec. 2. D. Casteu +7min. 11 sec. 3. P-A. Ullevalseter +9min. 35 sec. 4. M. Coma +14min. 40 sec. 6. J. Duran +20min. 12 sec.

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