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Al-Attiyah closes in on Dakar victory
Nasser Al-Attiyah took a big step towards his first Dakar Rally win after Volkswagen teammate Carlos Sainz hit trouble on the 11th stage of the event.  The reigning champion, who was second behind Al-Attiyah until yesterday, lost over an hour after breaking his suspension at the 410-km point of the stage. As a result of the problem, Sainz dropped to third in the standings and is now nearly 80 minutes behind Al-Attiyah and half an hour behind Giniel de Villiers, second in another Volkswagen.

The 11th special of the Personal Argentina-Chile Dakar 2011, 370 km long and divided into two parts, smiled on Cyril Despres. The Frenchman's objective was to regain ground on the bike category leader Marc Coma. With 2'12 lost by the Catalan to the Frenchman, in the end, the day could have been worse for Coma. Despres will have to settle for a 3rd special stage triumph this year. Coma's lead in the general standings now stands at 15'59. In the car race, the die seem cast. Carlos Sainz, already in trouble yesterday, seriously damaged his Volkswagen Race Touareg and lost more than an hour. Nasser Al Attiyah holds a solid lead over his new nearest rival, De Villiers.

370 kilometers was the distance of the timed section on offer to Cyril Despres to try and buck the trend after his severe setback the day before. It seemed to be a delicate assignment for the title holder, with him being 18'10” behind Marc Coma in the general standings. Setting off in the position of pursuer, 2 minutes after his rival, the Frenchman logically gained ground during the first part of the special, totaling 1'31 after 224 km, a good score, but not sufficient to worry the Catalan.
Far from the battle for the title, “Chaleco” Lopez took advantage of his fourth-placed starting position to follow the tracks of the two leading bikers and concentrate on riding his race. The Chilean put in the best time on arrival at the neutralized zone, with a good lead of 1'29 over Despres.

The second part of the special was the same as the first but for one detail. Despres set off 29” behind Coma this time, before gradually catching up with him and overtaking him thirty kilometers from the finish. Behind him, however, “Chaleco” Lopez suffered a moment's absence, misreading a note in his road-book. This navigation error cost him victory. As a result, Despres triumphed, taking his third stage victory since the start of the rally and the 26th in his career on the Dakar. The KTM rider is now one behind Jordi Arcarons and 6 behind the record holder in the bike category, Stephane Peterhansel.

The Frenchman regained 2'12 on the Spaniard, though this was not a big blow for Coma, who rode a controlled race and stuck to the tail of Despres once he was overtaken. He conserves a significant advantage of 15'59 over his best enemy. “Chaleco” Lopez remains on the third step of the virtual podium, but more than 49 minutes behind the leader, and even gained time on the day's fourth-placed rider, Helder Rodrigues.

In the quad category, Argentina once again took pride of place. Sebastian Halpern picked up his 2nd special stage victory, beating his countrymen Tomas Mafei and Alejandro Patronelli. The elder of the Patronelli brothers maintains his advantage in the general standings with a lead of 1 hour and 6 minutes over Halpern and 6 hours and 30 minutes over Frenchman Christophe Declerck.

Like in the bike category, a formidable duel between Nasser Al Attiyah and a Carlos Sainz out for revenge after his problems yesterday was expected. Such a battle did take place between the two VW drivers, at least up to the neutralized zone. Having set off behind the Qatari, Sainz put the pedal to the metal and soon found alongside the first competitor to start the day. After 224 km, Sainz had a lead of 1'24 and seemed to be heading for a 23rd stage victory on the Dakar.

However, the afternoon heat of the La Rioja region proved to be ominous for the title holder. After 412 km, Sainz, blinded by the dust, ripped his right front wheel off after hitting a hole. As a result, he spent one hour repairing in the company of his team-mate Mark Miller. Yesterday, Sainz admitted he had lost the rally unless Al Attiyah was to suffer a setback. Today, the Spaniard lost his second place and will have to fight to stay on the podium.

In the end, Nasser Al Attiyah had very little to worry about during this special, apart from the performance of Stephane Peterhansel. The runner-up of the last Dakar won his 3rd special stage or the rally with a lead of 1'13 over “Peter” and 4'52 over De Villiers. His lead in the general standings consequently takes a leap to almost 52 minutes over his new pursuer, De Villiers. Sainz is third, 1 hour 27 minutes behind and only 13 minutes in front of Peterhansel.

Finally, in the truck race, Vladmir Chagin was again victorious after his success yesterday. The Russian Kamaz driver beat Spaniard Pep Vila by more than 11 minutes and his nearest pursuer in the general standings, Firdaus Kabirov, by 13'04. The Tsar is now well set for outright victory, with a lead of more than half an hour over Kabirov.

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