Bengaluru, January 13: Everything can change in the blink of an eye at the Dakar Rally and that is exactly what happened on stage nine with Stephane Peterhansel winning it and increasing his lead over close rival Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah.
Leading contenders saw the route to victory vanish on the 465km loop stage around the Neom bivouac, while others continued to chase their dreams in the deserts and dunes of Saudi Arabia.
In the continuing tussle between Peterhansel and Al Attiyah, it was advantage Monsieur Dakar he was able to increase the gap over Qatari ace by 12 minutes after loop stage, putting the Frenchman's overall lead at 17m50s.
At the finish line Peterhansel was quick to praise his co-driver Edouard Boulanger who has been playing his part at this Dakar dominated by tricky navigation.
"It was always going to be a long day so we decided in the morning that we wouldn't go full attack. We wanted to manage the tyres and be clean with the navigation. We overtook Carlos (Sainz) and Nasser. It was more a question of strategy than speed. My co-driver Edouard did a great job," said 13-time champion Peterhansel.
A trio of flat tyres interrupted Al Attiyah's progress, but the three-time champion will dust himself down and get back in the fight.
"We had three punctures, three flat tyres. After that we didn't have any spares so we just decided to go safely to the finish. I'm not disappointed because I know I did all I could and still everything is possible on the final three days," said Al Attiyah.
Early in the stage defending champion Carlos Sainz lost his brakes, he spent 21 minutes trying to fix it but could not. Sainz continued the stage, losing only 22m30s to the leader.
Also getting to the finish line of the 465km timed special stage were Giniel de Villiers, Cyril Despres and Kuba Przygonski.
"It was a tough day. 465km full of rocks and full of riverbeds. It was an amazing landscape. We ate a stone and had one bad puncture a few kilometres from the finish, but we came through it," said Despres.
Stage 10 brings the Dakar convoy to Al Ula, via a 342km timed special stage. The route promises landscape that's both beautiful and tough to navigate.