ORURO (AFP) – Stormy conditions in Bolivia forced organisers to shorten the fifth stage of the Dakar Rally on Friday, with defending champion Stephane Peterhansel moving clear after fellow Frenchman Sebastien Loeb took the day s honours.
The stage was curtailed to just 219km rather than the scheduled 692km (447km timed) linking Tupiza with the old mining city of Oruro, famous for its carnival as heavy rain thrashed the region.
Organisers said they had no choice but to curtail the day s action after racing on the tough terrain “became impractical owing to the poor weather conditions on the road to Oruro.”
Nine-time rally world champion Loeb, on form after a stage win last Tuesday, was quickly out of the blocks and established a provisional six-minute lead over Spaniard Nani Roma before seeing his lead trimmed back.
But he held on for the stage win ahead of Roma and stablemate Peterhansel, whose third place was enough to open up a 1min 09sec advance atop the overall standings.
The extent of the treacherous conditions was shown by a photograph of one lorry upturned along the route from Tupiza towards the Uyuni region, famed for its salt flats, as torrents of rain fell.
Englishman Sam Sunderland of KTM meanwhile celebrated a second stage win as he took the lead among the motorcycles, making it to stage six for the first time after two previous race attempts ended in early exits.
Sunderland has a 7min 7sec advantage over Portuguese Paulo Goncalves with Frenchman Adrien Van Beveren just 12sec further back.
Earlier, Spanish Honda rider Joan Barreda had lost the after picking up an hour penalty for refuelling in an unauthorised area, allowing Chilean Pablo Quintanilla of Husqvarna to take the lead.
Barreda, who dominated the third stage from San Miguel de Tucuman to San Salvador de Jujuy in the north of Argentina, was demoted to seventh position overall, 41 minutes behind Quintanilla.
Three other Honda riders — France s Michael Metge, American Ricky Brabec and Portugal s Paulo Goncalves — were also slapped with the same penalty for illegal refuelling during Thursday s fourth stage.
The penalties are a blow for the Japanese team s bid to take the title from Austrian rivals KTM, unbeaten in the Dakar since 2002.
KTM had already lost defending champion Toby Price of Australia, who was forced to retire on Thursday after breaking his left leg in a fall.
Former champion Carlos Sainz of Spain was forced out of the auto event for a fifth time in a row overnight after his Peugeot was badly damaged in an accident.
Sainz, the 2010 winner, is the second top auto competitor to quit the race after former two-time winner Nasser Al Attiyah in a Toyota.
The Spaniard lost control of his vehicle which rolled over just five kilometres from the finish of Thursday s gruelling fourth stage.
“I m obviously very disappointed by this withdrawal,” said Sainz, also a two-time world rally champion in 1990 and 1992. “I regret not being able to to challenge.”
Sainz had been provisionally third in the standings when misfortune hit more than seven minutes behind French race leader and Peugeot teammate Cyril Despres.
Saturday sees the longest special stage — a 527km timed stretch from Oruro to the high-altitude Bolivian capital of La Paz. Sunday will be a rest day.