PETERHANSEL WINS AND CONSOLIDATES HIS LEAD IN THE DESERT CHALLENGE

Nani Roma, still suffering from stomach problems did not finish the special. In the bike class, Coma second and Duran fifth, same position as in the overall standings

Stephane Peterhansel and Cyril Despres took the victory of the third, 354.50 kms long leg of the UAE Desert Challenge in the car and motorbike classes respectively. Marc Coma finished second and Jordi Duran was fifth behind Ullevalseter. Despite still having serious health problems, Nani Roma decided to take the start of today's special.

Today's leg was not only the longest but also the hardest for drivers, riders and mechanics. The section began on the Medinat Zayed and Myzairah highway over fast, open desert sections. The route crossed the Ghiathi road and entered an area of open sand dunes, before turning east across sand tracks and several treacherous high sand ridges. After skirting the Shah oilfield, the selective section joined the Khis gatch road and returned to Moreeb.

With two legs left for the end of the rally, Mitsubishi Motors Repsol Team driver Stephane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret started first on the road this morning, but was soon losing valuable time. The first half before the second passage control was very tricky and the eight-times Dakar champion lost around 30 minutes stuck with his Mitsubishi Montero Evolution in very soft sand on two occasions. He recovered much of that lost time over the closing kilometres and now has a staggering advantage over second-placed Jose-Luis Monterde and Tiziano Siviero in a BMW X5.

Struggling with the effects of the food poisoning again throughout the night, the weakened Spaniard made the brave decision to take the start of this morning's stage, to continue gathering experience at the wheel of his Mitsubishi, getting ready for the 2006 Dakar Rally. Penalised with 12 hours for retiring from Friday's competitive sections, the Spaniard started the stage in nineteenth position. He fifth on the road, but was still feeling unwell and took the sensible decision to return to the bivouac.

In the motorbike class, Repsol rider Marc Coma was second, and although he could not recover time over Desprès, he extended his advantage over the third classified rider, David Casteu, in approx. 10 minutes. Coma, who started from the lead, was caught by Desprès 20 kms before the refuelling point, given the fact, that it was a technical stage as regards navigation. From that moment on, they both rode together at a good pace until the finish. His team-mate Jordi Duran continues adapting to racing after the accident that held him away from racing for almost nine months. The Spaniard caught Ullevalseter 90 kms after the start and followed him to the finish in fifth position. Duran benefited today from the retirement of local rider Khaled Khamis Ozair, allowing him to move up one place, to fifth, in the overall standings.

Tomorrow is the penultimate day of this year's event and the surviving teams will tackle one timed 290.65 kms special stage through the Rub Al-Khali or Empty Quarter, with the timed section finishing 74.60 kms from the Moreeb camp.

Stephane Peterhansel: "From the start it was very difficult. There were a lot of sand holes behind some big dunes before the second passage control and they were full of very soft sand. We lost time stuck twice. It was a hard stage today. We had a small problem with the hydraulic jacking system and we had to use it manually, but otherwise the car ran perfectly."

Marc Coma: "I started from the front today and I've enjoyed a lot. The stage went well, but it's been hard, especially the first half. Cyril got me 20 kms before the refuelling and from then on we rode together until the finish. The pace today has been fast, faster than yesterday. The bike is working very well and as regards tomorrow, our plan is to start with a comfortable pace, and if I can catch Cyril, I'll do, but if I don't, no problem, we are not going to take any risk."

Jordi Duran: "Fortunately, we didn't have any problems with the brake today and I've been able to do a good leg. I caught Ullevalseter and rode comfortably behind him until the finish. I'm feeling better every day and more confident, that was our aim. We will try to continue like this, to enjoy and to ride as close to Marc as possible, just in case he should need me."

Jordi Arcarons: "Both riders have done a great job today. Marc had a good pace and made no mistake in the most complicated leg of the rally, and Jordi has also had a good pace. We knew that in such a technical and demanding leg as today, Marc would easily get caught, sooner or later. And so it's been, but Marc's work here is a different one. He's riding safely and if there's no problem, he will be able to achieve his aim."

<pre> Results of leg 3 (unofficial): 1. S. Peterhansel, J-P. Cottret Mitsubishi Montero Evolution 5h 27m 09s 2. J-L. Monterde, T. Siviero BMW X5 5h 45m 12s 3. 2. Y. Al-Helai, K. Al-Kendi Chevrolet Pick-Up 5h 56m 22s

Overall standings car class (unofficial : 1. S. Peterhansel, J-P. Cottret Mitsubishi Montero Evolution 12h 32m 43s 2. J-L. Monterde, T. Siviero BMW X5 14h 22m 14s 3. Y. Al-Helai, K. Al-Kendi Chevrolet Pick-Up 14h 46m 04s

Overall standings motorbike class (unofficial): 1. C. Despres 12.34.22 2. M. Coma + 10.07 3. D. Casteu + 20.37 4. P. Ullevalseter + 31.46 5. J. Duran + 38.17

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