Peterhansel keeps lead on tragic day in Dakar

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Peterhansel keeps lead on tragic day in Dakar

Stephane Peterhansel set the all-time mark for stage wins with today's victory of the marathon special stage nine. However, any thoughts of celebration were abandoned after the news of the death of KTM rider Andy Caldecott as the riders and...

Stephane Peterhansel set the all-time mark for stage wins with today's victory of the marathon special stage nine. However, any thoughts of celebration were abandoned after the news of the death of KTM rider Andy Caldecott as the riders and drivers were on the road to Kaffa.

St?phane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret.
Photo by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.
"I believe that this is the finish of the stage where we learnt the death of (KTM rider Fabrizio) Meoni last year," Peterhansel recollected. "It's a terrible stage. We all try to improve security but the Dakar remains a dangerous race, especially for the bikers. It's difficult to explain. I saw Andy on the ground where there was no danger. When I saw him on the ground, I immediately thought it was bad, and it stayed in my mind for the whole special. All the Dakar family is shocked by this very very sad news."

In spite of having to stop to repair a puncture, the French duo of Peterhansel and navigator Jean-Paul Cottret were nearly nine minutes faster than their Mitsubishi Ralliart team car handled by Luc Alphand and navigator Gilles Picard to handily take the stage nine special win in their Pajero. The pair extended their overall lead over Alphand and Picard from 30 seconds to just over nine minutes.

Alphand's thoughts, too, were on Caldecott. "We drive fast, we take risks, we try to take them on, but sometimes it's hard," he mused. "However, that's just the job. We take part in a competition to try and enjoy ourselves and give pleasure. And no one thinks about danger."

"Unfortunately he is not the first to die like this, and he won't be the last," Alphand added. "At least, he died riding his bike, what he loved above all."

Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard.
Photo by Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports.
Third in the car category was Giniel de Villiers for the Volkswagen Touareg team, exactly 28 minutes adrift of Alphand. While de Villiers maintained his third place, the grueling stage dropped him to 54 minutes behind Peterhansel -- not out of the picture yet, but dependent on Peterhansel's and Alphand's problems for an opportunity to strike.

"After 150 kilometres I had a tyre failure on the rear-right," de Villiers recounted his problems. "Unfortunately the hydraulic jack didn't work, so I lost about 15 minutes as a result. We didn't want to change anymore tyres, so that's why we adjusted the tyre pressure to suit the terrain."

Jutta Kleinschmidt, in another Volkswagen, locked up fourth for the day ahead of Mitsubishi's Nani Roma, but lost 49 minutes to Peterhansel as the radiator fan in her Touareg failed.

"We needed 40 minutes for just five kilometres in the dunes," she explained. "We even turned the heating on to improve the cooling effect on the engine."

Roma, who lost three minutes to Kleinschmidt, still maintains his fourth place overall, giving the Repsol Mitsubishi team three of the top four positions with six stages remaining.

Behind them, Volkswagen's Mark Miller struggled to find the way again today, losing over an hour to Peterhansel, and falling to 3:19 behind Peterhansel, but still managed to surpass Thierry Magnaldi (Schlesser-Ford) to move from eighth to seventh.

"We got lost again today," the American off-road veteran explained. "We got stuck later when we swerved to avoid a motorcyclist who had crashed. So, we were seventh and have moved up a position on the overall leader board."

Defending title holder in the Bike category, Cyril Despres, had a day to attend to his injured dislocated shoulder on Sunday's official day of rest, and the rest seems to have made a big difference, as Despres was today's winner.

"I'm very sad," Despres reflected. "I didn't know Andy that well but I had respect for him. We were competing on the same bike and although we weren't in the same team, we were both part of the KTM family. We have worked on security. We now carry neck protections that we still have to improve to avoid this kind of accident. But riding a bike is like being in a boxing ring. Sometimes you fall and you immediately get back up. Sometimes the opponent is stronger. This time the opponent won."

The Gauloises KTM France rider finished with four minutes to spare in front of the bike overall leader Marc Coma (KTM Repsol Red Bull). Yamaha's Helder Rodrigues placed third today.

Giovanni Sala, fellow team rider to Coma, notched fourth followed by Pal Anders Ullevalseter on a privateer KTM.

Beyond the loss of their compatriot, the riders are also concerned on the condition of Isidre Esteve Pujol. The Spaniard crashed twice, his second at 346km and was airlifted to the medical center, Pujol was awake and alert, though, and appeared to have serious but not life-threatening injures.

Another rider whose hopes were finally dashed today was Yamaha's David Fretigne. The Frenchman, who was hoping to take advantage of the traction of his WR450F 2-Trac lost three hours today -- and was penalized another two hours for missing a waypoint on Saturday's stage eight, dropping him to 44th.

In the world of heavy trucks, Vladimir Tchaguine returned to glory today, taking his seventh stage win of this year's 28th Dakar cross country rally with a 33:44 margin over Brazilian driver Andre de Azevedo.

The Russian Kamaz driver has had his share of problems that occurred on stages seven and eight, where Tchaguine lost most of a two-hour gap to his teammate Firdaus Kabirov and to MAN driver Hans Stacey before today's stage. The two Russians started today with four-time Dakar winner Tchaguine having an edge just over thirty minutes.

However, Kabirov, the 2005 overall winner, crashed his Kamaz heavily today; although he and his co-drivers were uninjured, they had to wait for assistance, losing three hours and ten minutes on the stage and finishing tenth.

They have now fallen nearly four hours behind Tchaguine, and are less than 14 minutes ahead of Stacey. The Dutchman also experienced major problems, but managed to finish the stage 46 seconds ahead of Kabirov to make up a little bit of ground in the battle for second.

De Azevedo is fourth in a Petrobras Tatra, some 40 minutes behind Kabirov and Stacey, followed by the Czech veteran Karel Loprais in another Tatra.

The organizers have canceled tomorrow's special for the bikes, but the cars and trucks will take to the first stage in Mali, driving 293 km of special from Kiffa to Kayes, entering the savannah for the first time.

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Series DAKAR