Al Henaqiya (Saudi Arabia) (AFP) – Botswana's Ross Branch was handsomely rewarded for stopping to help an injured rider after emerging victorious in the opening stage of Saturday's Dakar Rally.
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Branch was in the lead when he jumped off his bike to help rival Dosha Sharena after Spain's race-ending crash.
The 37-year-old, in his sixth tucker, finished just short of the 16th.
But the Hero factory rider helped Sharina shave 25 minutes off his time, giving him an early race lead of nearly a dozen minutes from Ricky Brabeck.
„You know, racing isn't everything, so if you see one of the competitors lying on the ground, the best thing to do is stop with them and make sure they're OK,” Branch said.
He described Shareena as „a nice guy” and added that „you never want to see your friends like that”.
„So I don't have a problem, we have to stop and help, that's who we are, and if it's me lying on the ground, I'm sure he'll help me.”
Sharina will have to wait another year before resuming her association with the grueling test of motorsport as Branch prepares for Sunday's second round.
The works Honda rider who won Friday's prologue had to be airlifted to the starting line in an ambulance.
He later recounted: „I was riding really slow… I was trying to pass Toby (Price) and I think I hit something on the back wheel. I was going slow, but I broke my wrist.”
The car stage was won by Belgian Guillaume de Mévius (Overdrive) with Carlos Sainz second in his Audi Hybrid.
„The key is to be patient. We also had the advantage of having good tracks,” De Mevius said.
Defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah had a tough day, with the Qatari trailing in the 22nd and 25th minutes after two penalties.
„We went 350km without a spare wheel,” Al-Attiyah said. „Dakar is so long, damage control is important.”
ProDrive team-mate and former world rally champion Sébastien Loeb suffered a puncture and is 20th overall.
„It was terrible in terms of driving, cobblestones all the time… we lost between 12 and 15 minutes,” Loeb said.
Fellow Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel, a 14-time Dakar champion on two and four wheels, also struggled on the rocky surface in his Audi.
Two holes left him tied for 24th and 32 minutes off the lead.
„There's zero joy on the rocks,” he said.
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