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Floods halt Dakar, Peterhansel keeps overall lead

Photo: /Reuters

Floods shortened Wednesday's 137-mile stage on the sand dunes to just 33.

FIAMBALA, Argentina (AP) -- Flash floods stopped the Dakar Rally on Wednesday as the shortened 11th stage left Stephane Peterhansel with a commanding lead three days from the finish.

Two swollen rivers forced organizers to stop the cars after 33 miles of the scheduled 137-mile stage on the sand dunes around Fiambala. Robbie Gordon led in his Hummer at that point, followed by Ronan Chabot and Lucio Alvarez.

Peterhansel, who was sixth, was given a provisional 52-minute lead over Giniel de Villiers as he closes in on an 11th career victory in the Dakar.

"On every day that brings us closer to the finish, it's important to finish them without making any big mistakes, so it gets us nearer to the podium," Peterhansel said. "It's better to lose a few seconds trying to find the right place to pass than losing several minutes stuck in the mud or water."

The motorbikes completed their shortened stage before the rain hit. Defending champion Cyril Despres of France increased his overall lead to 13:16 ahead of KTM teammate Ruben Faria of Portugal, and 18:08 in front of Francisco Lopez of Chile, another KTM rider.

Kurt Caselli of the United States won his second stage in his first Dakar race. He finished 4:45 ahead of Paulo Goncalves of Portugal and had a 6:24 advantage over Despres.

"There was a storm in the dunes and it started raining," Despres said. "It wasn't easy to navigate. We came across some streams full of mud and water, which brought back bad memories from last year. ... I'm just happy to be here without too many problems."

Caselli spoke like a winner.

"Today was good, it was perfect," Caselli said. "The dirt was wet so you could see fine and the weather was good, so it was a nice day."

The rally crosses back over the Andes on Thursday for a 12th stage on the descent into Chile.

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