Al-Attiyah wins fourth Dakar Rally crown; Sunderland takes the cycling title

Qatar driver Nasser al-Attiyah won the Dakar Rally for the fourth time after the strenuous two-week trek through the Saudi desert reached its climax on Friday.

Al-Attiyah, who previously won in 2011, 2015 and 2019, took the overall award with almost half an hour from France’s nine-time world champion in rally Sebastien Loeb.

British motorcyclist Sam Sunderland took his second Dakar Rally crown earlier in the day.

The last stage was fraught with tragedy when 20-year-old French mechanic Quentin Lavallee was killed in a car accident.

Al-Attiyah – also a bronze medalist in skeet shooting at the London 2012 Olympics – led from start to finish to secure his first victory in Saudi Arabia after two second places.

“It was an incredible Dakar for us,” said the 51-year-old Toyota driver.

“We had not won since 2019. There were three solid teams that could win. Matthieu (Baumel his French co-driver) and I, the team, we all did a great job of winning.

“We had finished second every time since we came to Saudi Arabia two years ago, now we are really happy to achieve our goal.

“The whole race went without a hitch.”

The last stage of the car race was won by South Africa’s Henk Lategan with Dakar record holder Stephane Peterhansel as second in his electric hybrid Audi.

The German manufacturer had said before the race that it had no ambitions to win the overall title in what was its first contribution with a hybrid model, but it secured several stage wins.

“My head can explode”

Sunderland, who in 2017 became the first British champion in either the car or bicycle category, finished 3 minutes and 27 seconds ahead of Pablo Quintanilla from Chile and Matthias Walkner from Austria to take the checkered flag in Jeddah.

Sunderland, 32, dominated the first week but had to fight for the overall lead in the final days and gave it up several times before finally coming out on top.

He said it had not gone smoothly on the last stage he entered with a healthy lead.

“I honestly could not be happier,” said Sunderland.

“This last stage was so difficult and so much stress … A lot of navigation, a lot of tricky notes, sometimes a little confusing and not sure I was on the right track.

“Phh. Honestly, my head can explode. The last ten minutes I was not sure if I had won, now they have told me and, wow, the dream came true.

“I had a pretty tough season, but when you win Dakar it’s worth it. So nice.”

For Quintanilla, it was a beautiful reward to have left Husqvarna to replace 2021 champion Kevin Benavides at Honda.

The 35-year-old said it had been “the most stressful” Dakar for him so far, but his mood had always been strengthened by his countrymen writing to him.

“I’m over the moon with this result,” he said.

“It was a really, really tough race. I did my best. This is a good result for me as part of another team.

“We fought hard from day one. It was physically and mentally exhausting. But I’m really happy with my performance in the race.”

Walkner, who was champion in 2018, was ecstatic with his last place.

“If you had told me before the rally that I could finish among the top three, I would have said, ‘where do I have to sign?'” The 35-year-old said.

“I will enjoy this podium, which almost feels like a victory.”

(AFP)

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