Rallying: Sainz waiting for test in the desert

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The Independent Online

Carlos Sainz kept up his perfect start to the Dakar Rally with a second stage win in Portugal yesterday. But the former world rally champion believes he will not find out if he can win the event on his debut until the race reaches the deserts of North Africa.

The hilly course and slippery tracks between Portimao and Malaga in Spain suited the VW driver who said: "Everything went fine today, I had even more pleasure than yesterday on the course.

"It's not that perfect to have the leadership before reaching Africa. I'm still waiting for the desert to know what I can really do over there." Sainz took one hour, 34min and 28sec to cover the stage, beating Frenchman Luc Alphand's Mitsubishi by 25 seconds.

Alphand said: "That was a fantastic stage, the pace was much higher than usual in the Dakar and I was a bit worried about the cliffs on the side of the course.

"Since our car has been made for the desert, Portugal was not the perfect ground for us but I did quite well in these two stages. My goal in Portugal was to stay in touch with the front-runners."

The title holder Stephane Peterhansel was down in sixth after a puncture once again ruined his day.

Portugal's Ruben Faria made the most of local knowledge to win the motorcycle stage on his KTM.

Faria was on terrain he knows well and used his expertise to good effect as he kept new leader Isidre Esteve Pujol at bay. Faria's time of 1:37.07 was more than a minute faster than the KTM-Gauloises of Esteve.

Faria is still trying to make up a 12-minute time penalty and is well behind the leaders, despite finishing second and first on the opening two days. Title-holder Cyril Despres, who won the opening stage, was 11th on his KTM.

Pujol said he found the conditions difficult. "The track was a real ice-skating rink today. So I couldn't ride as fast as I wished. But it was an enjoyable stage."

The competitors faced a seven-hour sea crossing from Malaga before the rally's first desert stage in Morocco today between Nador and Er Rachidia.