ANTOFAGASTA, Chile (AP) — Defending champion Stephane Peterhansel closed the gap on Dakar Rally leader Nani Roma to just two minutes after another all-out attack on the 10th stage along the Chilean coast on Wednesday.
A day after slicing more than 11 minutes off Roma's overall lead, Peterhansel cut off another 10 to practically lie on Roma's bumper, setting up a thrilling finish with 1,100 kilometers and three days to go in the world's toughest rally.
Roma, who led Peterhansel by 39 minutes last Thursday, was set back by getting stuck on a dune, and then suffering a puncture. "It's not over yet, we knew this week would be tough," Roma said. Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar dominated the 630-kilometer leg from Iquique south to Antofagasta, enduring dunes, the powder-like sand known as fesh-fesh, and finishing on mine tracks to notch his 19th Dakar stage win, and second of this race.
Peterhansel was second, 3 minutes, 50 seconds behind, and Roma third, 13:45 back. Overall, Al-Attiyah climbed to third, 46 minutes behind Roma, and with a shot at making the podium for the first time since he won the 2011 race. He had a half-hour lead on fourth-place Giniel de Villiers of South Africa, the 2009 champ, and Orlando Terranova of Argentina.
The stage brought an end to 2010 winner Carlos Sainz, who crashed and withdrew. There was also bad luck for Chilean motorbike rider Jeremias Israel Esquerre, who was running second in the stage when he hit a rocky outcrop and crashed out.
Joan Barreda Bort led the motorbike race from the start but his fourth stage win still left him second and 44 minutes adrift of overall leader Marc Coma, also of Spain. Coma cruised to fifth with an eye on times of riders ahead of him. Barreda was now the only rider within two hours of Coma.
Esquerre's withdrawal and hard riding by defending champ Cyril Despres lifted the Frenchman from eighth to sixth overall, and only seven minutes behind third-place Jordi Viladoms. The 11th stage on Thursday is another monster, 605 more kilometers through the Atacama Desert from Antofagasta to El Salvador.