Dakar Rally rewards Coma’s solidarity, Sainz holds on to lead

Thursday, January 6, 2011

IQUIQUE - The Dakar Rally organisers opted Thursday to reward Spanish biker Marc Coma for his solidarity, by not taking into account the time Coma lost to help a fellow participant who was unconscious after a fall.

Race leader Coma, who also had technical problems of his own to worry about, stopped to assist French biker Olivier Pain. Pain, with a broken wrist, was eventually airlifted by helicopter.

“He was unconscious, so I activated the alarm and stayed with him until my water carrier Joan Pedrero arrived. It was a genuine Dakar stage where all sorts of things happen,” Coma said, in comments posted on the Dakar Rally website.

Portugal’s Paulo Goncalves carried the stage, with Coma coming in fourth, ahead of his main overall rival, Frenchman Cyril Despres. Overnight, Despres was penalised with 10 minutes for what organisers defined as “a lack of attention to the starting procedures on stage 4″.

In the overall standings, Coma, who won the Dakar Rally in 2006 and 2009, and second-placed Despres, who won the race in 2005 and 2007 as well as last year, are now 10:14 minutes apart.

In the car section of the race, titleholder Sainz lost ground to his main rivals, BMW’s Stephane Peterhansel and fellow Volkswagen driver Nasser Al-Attiyah.

Frenchman Peterhansel - a Dakar Rally legend with six titles on a motorcycle and three in a car - won the stage and climbed past Qatar’s Al-Attiyah to second place overall, although Sainz, who was third Thursday, retains a 2:26-minute lead overall.

“It could have been better,” Peterhansel said. “At one point, I had regained 4 minutes on Carlos. In the end, our performance was okay.”

The fifth stage of the prestigious offroad race featured 459 km in the challenging Atacama Desert between Calama and Iquique in northern Chile. Almost all of it, 423 km, was a timed special involving a variety of terrains.

The rally began Saturday with a so-called liaison stage starting in Buenos Aires. The race is being staged in Argentina and Chile for the third consecutive year, after security problems drove it out of its original location in Africa.

The Dakar Rally, traversing more than 9,500 km including 5,000 km of timed specials, is scheduled to end Jan 15 in the Argentine capital, where winners are to be celebrated a day later.

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