Loeb takes Dakar 7th stage, al-Attiyah retains runaway lead

·3-min read

Sebastien Loeb annexed the Dakar Rally seventh stage to move to the top of the chasing group behind runaway leader Nasser al-Attiyah on Sunday which marked a change of guard at the top of the bike standings.

Loeb, France's nine-time world rally champion, landed his second win of 2022 as the gruelling roadtrip across the Saudi Arabian desert resumed after Saturday's rest day.

He crossed the finish line at the end of the 402 kilometre drive from Riyadh to al-Dawadimi almost five and a half minutes clear of al-Attiyah.

But it was not all plain sailing for the 47-year-old whose best result from five Dakar attempts was second in 2017.

"We had a fantastic special until 50 kilometres before the line, when we started having engine problems.

"It just sputtered on, off and on again. We lost a lot of time near the end, but we still came out on top, so no complaints from my side."

He then lifted the lid on his masterplan to derail al-Attiyah's march to the title: "There is no strategy. We'll just do our job and see how it plays out."

Qatari al-Attiyah steers his Toyota into the second and final week with a huge 44min 59sec lead from Loeb, his fourth Dakar title seemingly his to lose.

Home favourite Yazeed al-Rahji lies third, just over eight minutes behind Loeb.

For al-Attiyah, the priority now is to "give it our all day after day and hope that it will pay off at the end of the Dakar".

- 'Flip a coin' -

While al-Attiyah has a tight grip on the car standings there was a new name at the top of the bike race with France's Adrien Van Beveren the new leader after a stage won by Chile's Jose Cornejo Florimo and which proved costly to Sam Sunderland.

The Briton lined up at the start leading the two-wheeled hunt for the 2022 title but ended it down in fourth after losing 20 minutes.

"It was a bit of a rough day," he reported.

"Where the rains have passed through...so many of the tracks are washed away, so it's a bit of a casino.

"You just flip a coin and hope it's that one."

Beveren, who arrived at the finish in 11th, is for once enjoying some luck after failing to finish the last four editions.

And after all the blood, sweat and tears for little or no reward, he was understandably moved at his change of fortune.

"After all that's gone before this is such a pleasurable feeling," said the Yamaha rider, fighting back tears.

The last time Beveren led the bike standings in 2018 he went on to crash, and with that memory still fresh he added: "I'll do my best to defend my lead, but without going crazy."

While Beveren rides on, for Australian Daniel Sanders, who was lying third overall, this Dakar is over.

The KTM rider crashed on the way to the start. He was taken to hospital but his injuries were reported not to be serious by the medical services.

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