Peterhansel, Despres near win in Dakar
Frenchmen Stephane Peterhansel and Cyril Despres were on the verge of winning the Dakar Rally again after strong finishes Saturday in the next-to-last stage.
Peterhansel, the top Daker winner with nine titles, and Despres, a three-time winner, need only to complete a 19-mile leg into the Peruvian capital of Lima on Sunday.
Overall, Peterhansel was almost 43 minutes ahead of second-placed Mini teammate Joan Roma of Spain but he wasn't taking anything for granted.
''I am still holding my breath this evening,'' Peterhansel said. ''I will breathe again once I am on the podium.''
Peterhansel, a Dakar competitor since 1988, has won on motorbikes six times and in cars three times, the last in 2007.
In Saturday's 171-mile trip between Nazca and Pisco, featuring dunes and confusing valleys, Peterhansel won without initially intending to. Taking a cautious approach, he finished first, 8 minutes, 29 seconds ahead of the Toyota of 2009 winner Giniel De Villiers of South Africa.
''It was not a stage we were trying to win,'' he said. ''First and foremost, we wanted to avoid falling into traps, especially after getting stuck in the sand yesterday. It was the toughest stage of the entire Dakar with regard to the dunes.''
Of his rivals, Roma got stuck in sand for 25 minutes, and American Robby Gordon dropped back one spot to fifth after doing a somersault in his Hummer.
In motorbikes, Marc Coma of Spain almost certainly lost the chance to successfully defend his title because of gearbox problems.
He led off the stage more than a minute up on Despres overall, but Coma began having gearbox problems just 25 kilometers in, then took a wrong turn at around 205 kilometers.
Despres took advantage, riding in 47 seconds behind stage winner Helder Rodrigues of Portugal, but more important with an 11:03 gap on his KTM teammate Coma overall. Rodrigues was third, a whopping 1:11:27 behind.
''Today's stage was psychologically very tough,'' Despres said. ''I always wait until the last day to enjoy things. I have seen so many things happen at the Dakar, and even more today. I want to stay calm and enjoy things a bit more.''
Coma conceded the title was back in Despres' hands. The pair have three titles each and have dueled for the last six years.
''I am happy to be here, in second position, which is quite good,'' Coma said. ''I fought throughout the entire rally and gave it everything I had at all times. That is the way it is. I am disappointed because I was not able to fight until the end.''
The Dakar Rally began on Jan. 1 in Mar del Plata, Argentina, and worked its way north through Argentina and Chile and Peru.