Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah grabbed the lead in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge while Dubai-based British rider Sam Sunderland forced his way ahead in the battle of the bikes yesterday.
Partnered by French co-driver Mathieu Baumel in a Mini All4 Racing, 2008 champion Al Attiyah won the 279km second stage to take a four minute, 13 second advantage over defending champion Vladimir Vasilyev.`
Reaching the end of a demanding stage at Rub Al Khali, finishing close to the towering Moreeb Hill, Al Attiyah said: “Yesterday (Sunday) we lost 21 minutes but today we started really well and we were careful for first 150km because the dunes were tricky. I really pushed for the last part and made up some good time.”
With Dutchman Erik Van Loon climbing three places to third, UAE’s Yahya Al Helei, the overnight leader, was seventh fastest on the day to finish the leg in fourth place overall alongside Emirati co-driver Khalid Al Kendi in his Nissan Pickup.
After his stunning first stage win 24 hours earlier, Al Helei kept pace with Al Attiyah and Vasilyev before losing time when forced to stop to repair a broken rear roll bar.
Al Helei’s compatriot Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, who got stuck in the sand in his Toyota Hilux at the first check point was 34 seconds adrift in fifth. Yet, Sheikh Khalid remained positive after a frustrating day.
“We were unlucky with a couple of technical problems. The tracking system didn’t work at some point and we got stuck in the sand at the first check point meaning we lost four minutes,” he said. “Also the air conditioning in the car failed and started blowing hot air from the engine. Despite these problems I am very pleased with the result.”
Meanwhile, yesterday’s bike stage was won by Joan Barreda Bort, who clocked 11 minutes 29 secs, but remains 44th overall. Topping the standings is Sunderland, who briefly became stuck in Rub Al Khali’s giant dunes.
Sunderland holds a three minute, 30 second advantage over KTM team-mate and reigning FIM world champion Marc Coma, with Spain’s seven-time Desert Challenge winner settling for 10th fastest on the day.
Speaking after the stage, Sunderland said: “It was tough as it was a mass start and no one knows what’s happening until the last 50km and then everyone starts racing like motocross.
“Everyone holds off at the start and then you have to race like mad at the end but it was good and the bike was great.”
Video: FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship – Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge http://t.co/CthhAme9lK
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After another good day, the UAE’s Mohammad Balooshi overcame early problems with his goggles but rallied to finish fourth yesterday and seventh overall. With no spare goggles and sand stuck in his lens, the rider battled through to finish the stage on a high.
“A really good day with some ups and downs,” said Balooshi. “With the mass start there was a lot of sand spraying and my goggles became full of sand. My visibility was not good but then the camel in me kicked in and I could see – I rode with pride and rode for my country. I could not be prouder.”
Defending champion Paulo Goncalves is third, with Matthias Walkner, Ruben Faria and Ricky Brabec completing the top six.
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