Dakar Rally: Masuoka wins ninth stage

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Stephane Peterhansel held onto the overall lead of the Dakar Rally despite his Mitsubishi colleague Hiroshi Masuoka taking victory on stage nine.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:05 IST
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Tidjikja - Nema, Mauritania:

Stage nine of the Dakar Rally was the legendary 736 kilometres stretch from Tidjikja to Nema in Mauritania - the longest stage facing competitors in this year's event. Only half the original field made it to the race's midway point. Injuries, breakdowns and exhaustion accounting for no less than 190 teams. Those at the top of the standings were still going strong with Stephane Peterhansel just doing enough to hold onto his overall lead. The Frenchman holds a lead of one hour and 4 minutes over his Mitsubishi colleague Hiroshi Masuoka, despite finishing second to the Japanese driver on Friday. Masuoka was 18 minutes and 32 seconds faster than Peterhansel, with Jutta Kleinschmidt third in her Volkswagen. Belgium's BMW driver Gregoire de Mevius slipped to fourth in the overall standings after a struggle through the stage. The overall third spot was taken by Ford's Frenchman Jean Louis Schlesser, who managed to come home in fourth place behind Kleinschmidt. It was not a good day for the Nissan team, as after 368 kilometres, two of their official cars were stopped with mechanical problems. Finland's Ari Vatanen toiled with a clutch problem, whilst Colin McRae had to endure a serious gearbox fault. Both made it to the finish, but at a very slow pace. However, their worries appeared insignificant in comparison to KTM rider Scot Harden. The American was forced out of the race after breaking his leg. The pain was etched on 47-year old's face as he returned to checkpoint 1. It was Frenchman Cyril Despres who took the honours in the motorcycle category on stage nine. Despres finished an impressive three minutes 24 seconds clear of his nearest challenger, Alfie Cox of South Africa. Spain's Joan Roma held onto the overall motorcycle lead despite only managing seventh place. Race organisers cancelled the weekend stages at short notice on Friday, citing security concerns. The stages through central Mali were scrapped, with the competitors moving to Mali's capital Bamako in the south, where the race will restart on Monday. (AP)