Rallying: Deaths overshadow Alphand's win

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The Independent Online

Former skiing champion Luc Alphand admitted his relief at winning the Dakar Rally, although the event was overshadowed by three deaths during the race.

Fans mourned the death of Australian motorcyclist Andy Caldecott - who crashed during stage nine - while two spectators also died, leading to the final stage not being timed. Officials insist the race is not under threat despite the tragedies during the 15-stage event from Lisbon in Portugal to Dakar in Senegal.

"The 2007 Dakar will definitely go ahead but we will do everything in our power to prevent these sorts of accidents happening again," said sporting director Etienne Lavigne. Frenchman Alphand, who won skiing's World Cup in 1997, was ahead after the 14th stage and therefore secured the title before the final 20 miles which skirted the shores of Lake Rose.

"It is always a big relief to be in Dakar," the Mitsubishi driver said. "And when you win, it is incredible. It has been a beautiful race, with a real battle. "We had to push ourselves further every day in the car, even when we were more than tired."

Giniel De Villiers finished second in his Volkswagen, with Alphand's Mitsubishi team-mate Nani Roma third. Stephane Peterhansel looked on course for a third successive Dakar victory until a problem to his rear left wheel lost him three hours on stage 12, and he eventually finished fourth overall.

Alphand added: "I don't really realize what is happening to me, even I have believing I could win since Labe (stage 12), after Stephane hit a tree. "But I had to remain focused on everything till the end. And today, I am very happy." Frenchman Cyril Despres, who battled on despite a dislocated collarbone earlier in the race, finished second in the motorcycle category behind Marc Coma. Giovanni Sala finished third. Vladimir Chagin won the truck category from Hans Stacey, and overall 93 bikes, 64 car crews and 33 trucks eventually made it to the finish line.