Sébastien Loeb overcame the adverse weather conditions to win his second Dakar Rally 2017 stage.
Bad weather hit on Friday with Stage 5 curtailed after 219km of a 447km route. Having navigated the first part of the timed stage, the competitors did not start the second portion after the neutralised zone with the tracks no longer said to be negotiable on the way to Oruro.
One notable absentee from the start line in Tupiza was 2010 winner Carlos Sainz with the significant damage from his crash down a ravine on Thursday forcing his premature retirement from the race.
Loeb saw off a close fight with Nani Roma to win his second stage of the week.
The Frenchman opened up a significant gap in the middle part of the day only to make things difficult by going wrong near the end, almost allowing
Roma to catch him before holding on to win by 44 seconds.
Team Peugeot teammate and 12-time winner Stéphane Peterhansel is the new overall race leader having arrived in third.
The curse of the stage starter struck again though with Cyril Despres having a tough time navigating, as did Giniel de Villiers who got in big trouble and lost half an hour.
Loeb said: “It’s very satisfying to have two stage wins already. The rain was very heavy so I guess the organisers made the right decision to cut the stage short. This meant we had a long liaison to drive back to the bivouac but when you have won the stage nothing feels too bad.”
Peterhansel added: “We got lost two times but I think everybody was getting lost today so it was not a big problem at the end of the day. It’s always good to lead the race but the gap is really small.”
Sam Sunderland took full advantage of his rivals slipping up to comfortably grab his second stage so far.
The British rider, who won by more than seven minutes, was the only man to skillfully follow the route correctly from start to finish and now happily sits top of the leaderboard.
An incredible day on the bike started with leader Joan Barreda receiving a one hour penalty for a refueling offence. He then went astray from the correct path, taking a number of riders with him, to lose yet more time.
With most of the leaderboard lost, KTM Factory Team rider Matthias Walkner was set to strike a massive blow having perfectly negotiated the start but then he also took a wrong turn after 168km to end his hopes.
Sunderland said: “I started off this morning feeling fast and I tried to really focus on the navigation. Yesterday I was down because I made a mistake and now I’m back up again. There’s a long way to go so I’ll be keeping calm and focused on the challenges ahead.”
Walkner added: “Things were going really good for me until 170km but then we left the main piste and the roadbook was not clear on where to go. This was where I got lost and when I picked the right way again I had been caught up so that cost me the time I had made earlier in the day.”
An interesting fact about Stage 5 winner Kees Koolen is that he has competed at the Dakar in four different categories. The quad bike is his mode of transport in 2017 and the Dutchman was in fine form to beat Gustave Gallego by seven minutes.
Reigning champion Gerard De Rooy, who suffered mechanical mishaps on the opening stages, has fought back to hold the overall lead. The Dutchman made it two wins in a row on Stage 5, beating Eduard Nikolaev of the Kamaz team after an entertaining battle.
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