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Rallying: Pavey endures the desert's demands

BRITAIN'S SIMON PAVEY was not the only motorcyclist who struggled to reach the desert bivouac of Atar during stage five of the Dakar Rally. Of the 159 riders who began the gruelling Saharan raid in Granada on 31 December, a mere 105 were fit to continue on stage six.

Over the most demanding terrain so far, many riders succumbed to broken bones, blown engines and empty fuel tanks, or simply collapsed exhausted in the desert. One competitor was even less lucky. Stefan Pietch was ambushed by bandits while his Mitsubishi 4WD was bogged down in the dunes, the thieves making off with his vehicle and equipment.

Pavey's reward for enduring the Atar stage was another 492km of dust and dunes to the the remote outpost of Tidjikja. He and CCM team-mate Vinnie Fitzsimon reached the refuelling stop after 266km relatively unscathed. "Vinnie went over the handlebars when he hit a big hole, which was lucky, if he hadn't he would have gone over a cliff," Pavey said.

The Newcastle rider, Ian Myers, was discovered wandering delirious in the desert, but after being force-fed pints of water, he battled on.

Stage seven from Tidjikja to Nioro proved even more arduous. The riders finished in the dark after having struggled through sandstorms during the day. "At one point I rode straight into a well," Pavey said. "It took four of us to drag the bike out." With riders scattered over much of Mali, yesterday's special stage for bikes was cancelled.

The Frenchman Richard Sainct (BMW) is the leader, with John Deacon (KTM), the highest placed Briton in eighth place.

Standings, Digest, page 27