Flash floods stopped the Dakar Rally on Wednesday, but the shortened 11th stage still left Stephane Peterhansel with a commanding lead three days from the finish.
Two swollen rivers forced organizers to stop the cars after 53km of the scheduled 219km stage on the sand dunes around Fiambala. Robbie Gordon led in his Hummer at that point, followed by Ronan Chabot and Lucio Alvarez.
Peterhansel, who was lying sixth, was given a provisional 52 minute lead over Giniel de Villiers as the Frenchman closes in on an 11th career victory in the Dakar.
“On every day that brings us closer to the finish, it’s important to finish them without making any big mistakes,” Peterhansel said. “It’s better to lose a few seconds trying to find the right place to pass than losing several minutes stuck in the mud or water.”
The motorbikes completed their shortened stage before the rain hit. Defending champion Cyril Despres of France increased his overall lead to 13 minutes, 16 seconds ahead of KTM teammate Ruben Faria of Portugal, and 18:08 in front of Francisco Lopez of Chile, another KTM rider.
Kurt Caselli of the US won his second stage in his maiden Dakar. He finished 4:45 ahead of Paulo Goncalves of Portugal and had a 6:24 advantage over Despres.
“There was a storm in the dunes and it started raining,” Despres said.
“It wasn’t easy to navigate. We came across some streams full of mud and water, which brought back bad memories from last year. I’m just happy to be here without too many problems,” he added.
The rally crossed back over the Andes yesterday for a 12th stage on the descent into Chile.