Al-Attiyah wins fourth Dakar Rally crown; Sunderland win cycling title

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Qatari driver Nasser al-Attiyah has won the Dakar Rally for the fourth time after the grueling two-week trek through the Saudi desert came to a head on Friday.

Al-Attiyah, who had previously won in 2011, 2015 and 2019, took overall honors by nearly half an hour from nine-time French rally world champion Sebastien Loeb.

British biker Sam Sunderland claimed his second Dakar Rally crown earlier today.

The final stage was marred by tragedy as 20-year-old French mechanic Quentin Lavallée was killed in a car crash.

Al-Attiyah – also a bronze medalist in clay pigeon shooting at the 2012 London Olympics – led from start to finish to claim his first win in Saudi Arabia after two runners-up finishes.

“It was an incredible Dakar for us,” said the 51-year-old Toyota driver.

“We hadn’t won since 2019. There were three solid teams capable of winning. Matthieu (Baumel his French co-driver) and me, the team, we all did a good job to win.

“We had finished second every time since we arrived in Saudi Arabia two years ago, now we are really happy to have achieved our goal.

“The whole race went off without a hitch.”

The final stage of the car race was won by South African Henk Lategan with Dakar record holder Stephane Peterhansel second in his electric hybrid Audi.

The German manufacturer had said before the race that it had no aspirations of winning the overall title on its first outing with a hybrid model, but it did take several stage wins.

‘My head can explode’ Sunderland, who in 2017 became Britain’s first car or motorbike champion, finished 3 minutes and 27 seconds ahead of Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla and Austria’s Matthias Walkner to take the checkered flag in Jeddah .

Sunderland, 32, dominated the opening week but struggled for the overall lead over the past few days and gave it up several times before finally winning.

He said that not everything was easy in the last stage which he started with a good lead.

“Honestly, I couldn’t be happier,” Sunderland said.

“That last leg was so difficult and so stressful… Lots of navigation, lots of tricky notes, sometimes a bit confusing and not sure if you were going the right way.

“Whew. Honestly my head can explode. The last ten minutes I wasn’t sure if I won, now they told me and, wow, the dream came true.

“I had quite a difficult season, but when you win the Dakar, it’s worth it. So good.”

For Quintanilla, it was a great reward to have left Husqvarna to replace 2021 champion Kevin Benavides at Honda.

The 35-year-old said it had been “the most stressful Dakar” for him to date, even though his compatriots had written to him.

“I’m delighted with this result,” he said.

“It was a really, really tough race. I gave my best. It’s a good result for me in a different team.

“We fought from day one. It was physically and mentally exhausting. But I’m really happy with my race performance.”

Walkner, who was champion in 2018, was delighted with his final placing.

“If you had told me before the rally that I could finish in the top three, I would have said ‘where do I sign?'” said the 35-year-old.

“I will enjoy this place on the podium, which almost feels like a victory.”

(AFP)

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