Qatari Nasser al-Attiyah clinched the Dakar Rally on Saturday, ending two years of heartache on the grueling event, while defending champion Carlos Sainz was left with the consolation of taking the 13th and final stage.
Versatile al-Attiyah, who helped Qatar to a shooting gold medal at the Asian Games in November and has also appeared at the Olympics, had virtually wrapped up the title on Thursday when Sainz’s hopes were shattered by a broken suspension.
That cost the former double world rally champion, a Volkswagen teammate of the Qatari, 80 minutes in lost time.
Victory also helped ease al--Attiyah’s misery of being disqualified in 2009 before being edged into second place by Spaniard Sainz last year in a bad-tempered finale when the two men had a spectacular falling out.
“We drove a good, clean stage. I was just thinking about the finish line. It means a lot to win a Dakar, for me, for my people, for my country and for my team,” al-Attiyah said. “It is a great victory. We demonstrated that we have the strongest team in the world. It is the third time the team has won a Dakar. It is also the biggest moment in my career.”
Al-Attiyah had started the final stage, a 181km timed run from Cordoba, with a 48-minute lead over South African teammate Giniel de Villiers and was never troubled.
He finished 38 seconds behind Sainz, who claimed a record 24th stage win, on Saturday.
De Villiers was fourth on the day, 1 minute, 58 seconds behind the Spaniard, to finish 49 minutes, 41 seconds behind al-Attiyah in the overall standings.
Spaniard Marc Coma won his third Dakar motorcycling title while Dutch rider Frans Verhoeven won the stage.
Coma, 34, had been virtually assured of the title going into the stage and rode his KTM carefully to finish 2 minutes, 16 seconds adrift of BMW rider Verhoeven.
“That is a lot of work and sacrifices that have gone into winning the Dakar from myself and the backroom staff,” Coma said. “It has cost me a lot. I have had a good year. We gave the bike its debut and worked on it for over a year. I have had a really good team at the Dakar and I haven’t experienced the slightest problem.”
“I am happy and emotional, but that is normal, no? It has been a long journey, a lot of built-up -tension. And now I have profited from it,” Coma said.
France’s defending champion Cyril Despres, also on a KTM, gained 1 minute 32 seconds on Coma on the stage, but still finished more than 15 minutes adrift, while Chilean rider Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez was third, 1 hour 40 minutes behind the Spaniard.
“This special is different if you are in first place as it was the case last year ... then you want the race to be shorter. When you are -second, you would want the race to be longer,” Despres said.
“But anyway, the feeling of finishing a Dakar is always nice especially here with all the people welcoming you. I am sad I could not do better than this though I have raced 11 Dakars, won three and ended eight times on the podium,” he said. “One more would have been great, but I just could not do any better. I made some mistakes; they were two small mistakes, but they held some heavy consequences.”
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