Dakar Rally again hit by tragedy
Stephane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean Paul Cottret. Photo: Getty Images
Ten-time champion Stephane Peterhansel extended his Dakar Rally lead on Friday, but the world's most gruelling endurance event was once again hit by tragedy when a French motorcyclist was killed.
As Peterhansel claimed the seventh stage, which crossed the Andes at altitudes of around 5,000m between Calama in Chile and Salta to build a lead of more than three minutes on Nasser al-Attiyah, the event was reeling from a third death in two days.
Competitor Thomas Bourgin, 25, was involved in a collision with a Chilean police car on the link road to the start of Friday's stage.
"The rally's medical teams deployed on the ground were only able to certify the rider's death, probably instant," a statement on the race's official website reported.
Bourgin was in 68th place in the overall motorcycling rankings of his first Dakar.
On Thursday, two people were killed in a head-on collision between a rally support vehicle and a taxi near Peru's border with Chile.
Going into the 2013 event, some 59 people, including 20 spectators, had lost their lives in the race.
On Friday, Peterhansel finished the 218km run with a 39sec lead over compatriot Guerlain Chicherit, in an SMG, with American NASCAR driver Robby Gordon, in a Hummer, 1min 08sec off the pace.
Al-Attiyah, the 2011 champion who had won his third stage of this year's race on Thursday to slash Peterhansel's overall lead down to 1min 18sec, was sixth on Friday in his Buggy, 1min 56sec behind.
He remains second overall, but it is now 3min 14sec behind defending champion Peterhansel in the race for the title.
"It was a very long link stage at more than 4,000 metres above sea level. We even went over 4,800 and started to feel the fatigue and headaches that can happen in that situation," said Peterhansel.
"But then we got stuck into the special, just 218 kilometres and I have to admit that for the first 130km, we were flat out. There was nothing to do, just 15 or 30 bends and we were driving at 150 kmph on average."
In the motorcycling stage, America's Kurt Caselli, on a KTM, took the honours, winning in 1hr 51min 31sec, an advantage of 1min 23sec over Chile's Francisco Lopez and Olivier Pain of France.
Pain still leads the overall standings by 6min 06sec ahead of Lopez.
Defending champion Cyril Despres, who had been second overall, dropped to more than 14 minutes off the pace after mechanical problems left him without fifth gear for half the distance.
"Cyril's problems have given me a significant gap for the lead, and that's a good thing for me," said Pain.
"That's just part of racing, but I'm not forgetting that it could happen to me too, so I'm not getting cocky about it, especially since Cyril has the capacity to claw back the time he's lost."
Saturday's eighth stage is a 247km timed run between Salta and Tucuman.