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Robby Gordon 17th after opening stage of Dakar Rally
Robby Gordon sits 17th after Saturday's opening stage of the Dakar Rally in Argentina.

Gordon, driving the Team Dakar USA Hummer, completed the opening stage in two hours, 50 minutes and 40 seconds. The stage opened with a leg from Buenos Aires to Santa Rosa de la Pampa, Argentina. The race takes place in South America this year.

Gordon is 14 minutes, 25 seconds behind the leader, Quatari driver Nasseer al-Attiyah. Qatar's Nasser Al Attiyah won the first stage of the Dakar Rally on Saturday, a 231-mile dusty run in which he held off a posse of Volkswagens led by former world champion Carlos Sainz.

Al Attiyah, winner of the UAE Desert Challenge, completed the leg in his BMW from Buenos Aires south to Santa Rosa in 2 hours, 36 minutes, 15 seconds.

"It was a fairly easy route but still quite fast," Al Attiyah said. "However, it didn't feel like I had to push it to the limit during the race."

The 30th Dakar Rally — and the first outside Africa — features 177 cars, 217 motorcycles, 81 trucks and 25 quad bikes with drivers from 49 countries. After 14 stages and 5,950 miles, it will finish Jan. 18 in Buenos Aires. The 2008 race was canceled because of possible terrorist attacks in Mauritania.

BMW's Guerlain Chicherit was fastest through the third checkpoint but rolled his car onto its roof after 172 miles and it was uncertain if he would continue. Hiroshi Masuoka, a two-time Dakar winner, had engine problems in his Mitsubish. He was towed to the finish and nearly eight hours off the pace.

Sainz was 2 minutes, 17 seconds behind Al Attiyah. He was followed within two minutes by Volkswagen teammates Giniel de Villiers of South Africa and Mark Miller of the United States.

The rival Mitsubishis, who have dominated the race since 2001, were on their tail. Luc Alphand, the 2006 champ, was fifth and defending champion Stephane Peterhansel sixth.

Marc Coma of Spain won the motorbike's opening stage and became the favorite after troublesome runs by two Frenchmen — defending champion Cyril Despres and 2007 runner-up David Casteu.

Despres finished 22nd, 41 minutes behind Coma, after his KTM's rear tire burst. He finished on his wheel rim. Casteu also punctured a tire, turned around and received a spare from teammate Emanuel Gyenes. He finished nearly four hours back.

"I would have liked to have had a quieter start to the Dakar," Despres said.

Sunday's second stage continues south for 147 miles to Puerto Madryn on the coast.

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