Updated: January 16, 2013 4:46 PM | By AFP

Rallying: Despres extends lead, cars brought to a halt



Defending champion Cyril Despres extended his overall lead in the motorcycling category in the Dakar Rally after the 11th stage of the race on Wednesday.

However, while the 38-year-old Frenchman moved a step closer to a fifth Dakar title, his colleagues in the car category were once again frustrated by the elements as an overflowing river brought the majority of the drivers to a halt.

Despres' compatriot and defending drivers' champion Stephane Peterhansel - who leads this year's edition by more than 50 minutes with the race finishing on Sunday - was one of only seven drivers to succeed in crossing the river.

American Bobby Gordon - disqualified from last year's race when in contention to win - was declared the stage winner though it had a hollow ring about it.

Saturday's eighth stage had seen the car category also badly affected by torrential rain.

Peterhansel - seeking his 11th win in the race having won the bike title six times and the car category on four occasions - was pleased with how the stage had turned out as it took him one stage closer to victory.

"It hasn't turned out too badly at all for us today," said the 47-year-old Mini driver.

"But we were driving calmly. We were being careful where we put the wheels, trying to avoid going too deep into the river beds. It's better to lose a few seconds trying to find the right place to pass than losing several minutes stuck in the mud or water.

"We did see some water, but when we went through it wasn't catastrophic. But it's like what happened a few days ago, the water level can rise quickly and it can get quite deep within a matter of minutes."

American KTM rider Kurt Caselli had taken the stage honours in the motorcycling section beating Portugal's Paulo Goncalves by 4min 45sec over the 452km stage from La Rioja, which having originally been planned to include a 190km timed special was reduced to 30km because of the inclement weather.

Despres, who waited till Monday to make his surge having started the week over 20 minutes in arrears, finished third, also on a KTM, 6min 24sec adrift of the winner.

The Frenchman leads team-mate Ruben Faria of Portugal by 13min 16sec while in third place is another KTM rider, Chilean veteran Francisco Chaleco Lopez, 18min 8sec in arrears.

However, Despres was far from being in good humour at the end of his day's work.

"There was a storm in the dunes and it started raining. It wasn't easy to navigate," he said.

"We came across some streams full of mud and water, which brought back bad memories from last year.

"I don't know what today means in terms of results, but I'm just happy to be here without too many problems. Fiambala really is a shit-hole. We spent time in the water walking alongside the bike. The pace went up a lot after Kurt overtook me. Perhaps that's why I'm a bit tired!"

© 2013 AFP

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