Abu Dhabi // Spain's Nani Roma took a major step towards a first victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on Tuesday, and the Dubai-based British rider Sam Sunderland came under pressure but retained his lead in the bikes class.
The defending champion Jean-Louis Schlesser won the 284-kilometre Qasr Al Sarab Stage 3 to take his buggy into third, overall, in the cars category, but the third-fastest time on the day was enough to see Roma and French co-driver Michel Perin more than double their overnight lead to 40 minutes, 39 seconds in a Mini.
Fourth quickest in the stage, the Brazilian Guilherme Spinelli held second place at the end of a demanding passage through the towering dunes of the UAE's Western Region of Al Gharbia.
Despite his lead, Roma knows he cannot afford to relax over the final two legs, which is where many victory hopes have been buried over the years.
"It was another difficult stage and the sand was very soft," he said. "It's always harder to open a stage and make the tracks, and I was waiting and waiting for the cars to come behind me, but they never came. You just need to concentrate that much more in the desert. It's really tough like that, but that's the way it is in the Desert Challenge."
It was a day when four of the world's top cross-country rally bike stars rode together in pursuit of the overnight leader Sunderland. Poland's Jakub Przygonski was the stage winner, followed by Portugal's Paulo Goncalves, Spain's reigning world champion; the six-time Desert Challenge winner Marc Coma; and Norway's former world champion Pal Anders Ullevalseter. They closed the gap on Sunderland, but he is still out front.
Przygonski said it "was a very good day for me. I got lost yesterday so I had to make up some time. The top four rode this stage together and we also came across a few camels. They weren't in our way, but it was a cool experience. There were also a lot of nice jumps in this stage."
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