DAKAR: Defending bike champ Price out after breaking leg

2017-01-05 22:58:32

The combination of high altitudes on the San Salvador De Jujuy-to-Tupiza route and poor weather conditions (fog and heavy rain) wreaked havoc during the fourth stage of the Dakar Rally.

Defending motorcycle class champion Toby Price, who won last year's race by more than 40 minutes, suffered a fractured thigh bone just as he was set to wrap up the stage win after a tough back-and-forth battle for the lead with overall leader Joan Barreda. He was airlifted to a hospital. Matthias Walkner caught Barreda at the end for the 2m,2 second win. Barreda maintains the overall lead by 22 minutes.

"If we are fair, we have to say that the others started first and I started 11th," Walkner said. "I had it much easier because I could see more tracks. Actually, at the beginning I didn't feel so good because the navigation was still tricky, many riders got lost and there were tracks everywhere.

"The bad thing is that Toby crashed. I hope he is more or less OK. I stopped with him and then they showed me that it was over for him. Health is the most important thing and I hope that he's OK."

Two-time Dakar car category winner Nasser Al-Attiyah was forced to drop out of competition after suffering heavy damage in Stage 3 that left a deficit of more than two hours to the leader. The team decided at midnight to withdraw. Another favorite, Yazeed Al-Rajhi, withdrew from the race; he was sixth in the general standings.

Peugeot's Carlos Sainz lost 10 minutes in the first half hour of the special and even more when he got stuck in a ditch. Stephane Peterhansel went off course and stood at a standstill, losing more than 15 minutes. Not long after, Sebastien Loeb also stopped for several minutes several times, losing more than 25 minutes. Cyril Despres opened a gap at the Bolivian border over Nani Roma to take the overall lead from Loeb, who finished the fourth stage 22 minutes behind his teammate. Mikko Hirvonen finished in second, more than 10 minutes behind, and Roma third. Sainz crossed the finish line 2 hours, 19 minutes after Despres.

"It was a long day; it was a tough day," Despres said. "We started in some small dunes at high altitude and the car had maybe 20, 30 or 40% less power. It wasn't easy to avoid getting stuck. The sand was really soft. There were already one, two or three that we had overtaken, even four or five cars and then we knew that we had a good rhythm. After the beginning we were leading, then Carlos overtook us after 60 km and we followed him for the whole day. But unfortunately on a twisty track he made a mistake and he rolled the car, but I hope he will get here in a few minutes. They were ok and they were out of the car. It was great to follow him, or try to follow him the whole day: it's Carlos Sainz – he's not just anybody."

It was revealed that Slovakian bike rider Ivan Jakes was struck by lightning during Wednesday's stage, but he was not injured and is continuing to race. Former MotoGP rider and 2016 winner in the unassisted bikers category Jurgen Van den Goobergh required medical assistance after 65 kilometers of the special.

Among the many competitors forced to withdraw is Marcelo Medeiros, who won the first quad stage but suffered a head injury and possible broken shoulder/right wrist after a severe fall in Stage 4.

In trucks, defending champion Gerard de Rooy boosted his hopes with his first stage victory this year. The Iveco driver, who won outright in 2016, beat the Kamaz driven by Airat Mardeev by 30 seconds. Dmitry Sotnikov took the overall lead, jumping up from sixth. 

Bolivian Walter Nosiglia picked up the stage win in his native country in the quad category, finishing more than 11 minutes ahead of stage runner-up Sergey Karyakin. 

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