BISHA, Saudi Arabia (AP) — French rider Adrian van Beveren became the latest Dakar Rally motorbike front-runner as the overall lead changed for the fourth consecutive day after the 10th stage on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Nasser Al-Attiyah enjoyed what he called a perfect car to stay more than half an hour ahead of Sebastien Loeb with two stages to go in Saudi Arabia.
"We're getting there, little by little,” said Al-Attiyah, eyeing his fourth Dakar title.
Van Beveren fell out of the motorbike's overall virtual top three by halfway through the 375-kilometer, canyon-filled special between Wadi ad-Dawasir and Bisha, until late navigation errors by rally leaders Matthias Walkner of Austria and Sam Sunderland of Britain cost them precious minutes.
Suddenly, Van Beveren was propelled into the virtual lead, confirmed after finishing third on the stage won by two-time former champion Toby Price, followed by Lucio Benavides.
Van Beveren has crashed out of the last four Dakars but prepared his Yamaha especially hard in recent months in search of his first Dakar win.
He's five minutes up on Pablo Quintanilla of Chile, six minutes up on Sunderland, and more than eight minutes up on Walkner and Joan Barreda of Portugal, who was carrying a shoulder injury yet remained in contention despite getting lost twice on the stage.
A new champion on Friday was guaranteed after 2021 winner Kevin Benavides, who started the day fifth overall, suffered a mechanical problem a third of the way in, and withdrew.
In the cars, Al-Attiyah lost more than six minutes off his lead to Loeb -- including a five-minute penalty for not wearing his seatbelt briefly on Monday -- but still considered it a good day. His Toyota leads by nearly 33 minutes overall.
“I said I didn't want to take risks, I simply want to set a high pace,” the Qatari said. "We're not here to win stages. Last year we took seven (stages) and finished second, this time round we've only claimed two and we're in the lead.”
Loeb, the nine-time rally world champion seeking his first Dakar title, was proud for pushing his Prodrive hard again but frustrated the gain on the course of 85 seconds was so little. He finished the stage fifth.
"The gap (overall) is too big and the race is no longer in our hands, but we're still hanging in there,” Loeb said.
The stage was won by Stephane Peterhansel, who beat home teammate Carlos Sainz by two minutes to earn his 82nd career stage win and 49th in a car, one off Ari Vatanen's 18-year-old record.
Peterhansel, the 2021 champion, has been out of contention since a major navigation error on day two. But he was pleased that this third win for Audi after teammates Sainz on stage three and Mattias Ekstrom on stage eight validated their electric car.
“This is good for morale, not least because it comes after a complicated start to the rally,” said the most successful entrant in Dakar Rally history. "We need to win in 2023. Failure is not an option.”
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports