Stephane Peterhansel leads Dakar Rally

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> French driver Stephane Peterhansel took the overall lead in the Dakar Rally after finishing third in Saturday's third stage around Castellon in Spain.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:05 IST
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Castellon, Spain:

French driver Stephane Peterhansel took the overall lead in the Dakar Rally after finishing third in Saturday's third stage around Castellon in Spain. The stage was won by South African Giniel De Villiers, with Belgian Gregoire De Mevius second. Japan's Hiroshi Mazuoka, who won the rally in 2002 and 2003, was fourth on Saturday, and lies sixth overall. In the bike category, Frenchman David Fretigne maintained his race lead with his second consecutive stage win. Thankfully, the short third stage of the Dakar Rally - on the sands of Castellon in north-eastern Spain - saw no repeat of the atrocious weather that had marked the previous day's action near the French city of Narbonne. One man not to benefit from the improved conditions, however, was Josep Maria Servia, who had led the rally at the end of the second mud-clogged stage. The Spaniard was tenth-fastest over the nine kilometre beach stretch, and dropped down to second overall as a result. Victory on Saturday went to South African Giniel de Villiers, who finished in six minutes and 22 seconds in his Nissan. It marked a change of fortune for De Villiers, who dropped two minutes on Friday after smashing his windscreen and bending the co-driver's door. De Villiers finished four seconds clear of Gregoire De Mevius of Belgium, driving a BMW. De Mevius is now third overall, 17 seconds behind Servia. Grabbing the overall lead was the vastly experienced Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel, who won the motorbike category of the Dakar Rally on six occasions during the 1990s. In his Mitsubishi, Peterhansel finished the stage in a time of 31 minutes and 20 seconds, third quickest on the day, but good enough to lead Servia overall by five seconds. Titleholder Hiroshi Masuoka, meanwhile, was fourth fastest in his Mitsubishi, and is ominously placed, sixth overall. In the motorcycles, Frenchman David Fretigne is 16 seconds clear overall after his second win in two days. Fretigne's time of six minutes and 13 seconds on his Yamaha was the quickest of the day by just one second. Second, once again, was Fretigne's compatriot Cyril Despres on a KTM. Overall, Despres holds a 50 second advantage over the third-placed rider, Giovanni Sala of Italy. And action finally got underway in the truck class, after the cancellation of Friday's stage due to the adverse conditions. Gerardus de Rooy leads by seven seconds from his father Johannes de Rooy, also driving a DAF. Following the Castellon stage, the colorful armada of vehicles takes ship for the northern Moroccan port of Tangiers, ahead of Sunday's fourth stage and the first real test of the event - a 75 kilometre special section in the desert. This year's Dakar rally spans seven countries and 11,090.5 kilometres (6,920.4-miles). It ends on January 18th in the Senegalese capital of Dakar. (AP)