Rallying: Stages cancelled after Mali threat

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The Independent Online

This weekend's stages of the Dakar Rally were cancelled for security reasons yesterday after reports of armed gangs awaiting drivers in Mali.

Organisers said in a statement on the official rally website that the decision to bypass eastern Mali and cancel the 10th and 11th stages was taken following advice from the French and Mali authorities. Competitors will now head from Mauritania to Bamako, with motorcycle riders flown to the Mali capital, before heading back to Bobo Dioulasso in Burkina Faso.

The Dakar-Cairo rally experienced similar problems in 2000 after warnings from Washington and Paris that hundreds of Algerian Islamic guerrillas planned to ambush the race in Niger. Four stages were cancelled and transport planes were used to shuttle competitors and their vehicles over the Sahara desert into Libya.

Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka reported on Thursday that a Mauritanian army soldier had pointed a gun at him and demanded money when he entered the country the day before. Masuoka, winner for the past two years, was fastest in yesterday's ninth stage, ahead of Mitsubishi team-mate Stephane Peterhansel. The Frenchman still leads the event with Masuoka second and Gregoire de Mevius third overall.

Colin McRae's dreams of winning the rally were dashed last night following a second consecutive mechanical failure. The Scotsman lost almost three hours on Thursday when he lost his four-wheel-drive system and transmission gremlins struck again yesterday on the 736km stage from Tidjikja to Nema to leave him out of contention.

Cyril Despres won the motorcycle stage from Alfie Cox but that was not enough to dislodge the overall leader Joan Roma, whose fourth place today kept him on top.

Patsy Quick, who hopes to become the first British woman to complete the motorcycle race, failed to make yesterday's start but there was some good news for the Londoner Nick Plumb who was rescued by helicopter from the desert.

The Team Dome BMW rider had been forced to sleep in the open after becoming lost but was able to telephone for help.