Sunderland frustrated to lose 26 minutes on "casino" stage
Long-time Dakar Rally leader Sam Sunderland admits he found it "frustrating" to lose almost 26 minutes on a stage he labelled as a "casino" in terms of navigation.
GasGas rider Sunderland initially took the lead of the Saudi Arabian event on Stage 2, and maintained a slim advantage of two minutes, 39 seconds at the head of the table into Saturday's rest day.
However, the Briton's hopes of adding a second Dakar victory to his 2017 triumph took a blow on Sunday's 402km Riyadh-Al Dawadimi test, as navigational problems left him 25m55s behind the day's winner Jose Ignacio Cornejo.
It means Sunderland has slipped to fourth overall, albeit only 5m38s down on new leader Adrien van Beveren as his previous closest rival, Matthias Walkner, also suffered a difficult day.
Sunderland's job was made even harder by a crash for his GasGas teammate Daniel Sanders on the liaison section prior to the stage, leaving him with the unenviable task of opening the road.
"It was a bit of a rough day," said Sunderland. "It started out bad for Sanders with a crash in the liaison and then the stage was really, really difficult with the navigation, so not ideal to start in front.
"Where the rains have passed through after the 00 car, so many of the tracks are washed away, so it's a bit of a casino. You just flip a coin and hope it's that one. Honestly, it's a bit frustrating, but at the same time I'm sure the next days will be the same for the other guys.
"Even yesterday, when people were asking if I was excited about leading the race, of course, it's cool, but it means nothing on the rest day. We still have so many long days in front of us and I'm sure there'll be some more opportunities to attack, to recuperate some time.
"I'm happy for [van Beveren], but at the same time, he'll have to open tomorrow, so he'll have the same job. This is a race and why it's interesting."
Yamaha rider van Beveren finished 10th on the stage, losing some 12m34s to Cornejo, but now has a 5m12s advantage over KTM's Walkner in the general classification with five stages to run.
"I tried to attack wherever I could, but it was a tricky special from the point of view of navigation," said the new overall leader. "I knew it could pay off handsomely, so I gave it my all. It worked out.
"I'll do my best to defend my lead, but without going crazy. My goal is to make it to the finish line. I've been saying it from the beginning and that hasn't changed. I'll draw upon my experience and stick to the original plan.
"It's still far from over, and I intend to push hard until the end. If it all falls into place, it will be fantastic."
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