YANBU, Saudi Arabia: Nasser Al-Attiyah won his fifth stage on the Dakar Rally on Thursday when he finished nearly two minutes ahead of leader Stephane Peterhansel but still trails the Frenchman with one day to go.
Peterhansel will start the final stage, a 225-kilometer run across chains of dunes to Jeddah, leading by a quarter of an hour as he seeks to add to his record 13 victories in the race.
“We lost just a few minutes, it’s nothing,” said Peterhansel at the finish. “There’s only one day to go… It’s time to cross fingers and hope that we will be in first place at the end.”
The longest stage of the race, a 464-kilometer drive across sand dunes from AlUla to Yanbu brought a day of changing fortunes.
Peterhansel led with an advantage of more than three minutes over Al-Attiyah after 306 kilometers but suffered two punctures.
Khalid Al-Qassimi took the lead after 362 kilometers at which point Al-Attiyah had closed to within seven seconds of Peterhansel.
Peterhansel regained the lead and was 38 seconds ahead of the chasing Al-Attiyah 30 kilometers from the finish but could not hold the lead.
“Today it was really complicated, like the organizers said beforehand, like we expected it to be, because the navigation was not easy, but we got two punctures, especially the last one that was in the dunes,” the Frenchman said.
“They were really strange dunes,” he added. “In the middle of the dunes there were some rocks just after the crest of the dunes, so it was not easy to anticipate or to see. The last one was a very big impact and we had another puncture. We were a little bit afraid that also some part of the frame was broken, but at the end it was OK.”
Al-Attiyah, driving a Toyota, eventually crossed the line in 4hr 34min 24sec, 1min 56sec ahead of Peterhansel in his Mini.
“It really wasn’t easy,” said the Qatari, who also won the prologue.
“I am really happy to be here on day 11 without any technical problems with the car,” he added. “We have really had a lot of punctures. I’ve had more than 16 tires punctured. I am sure that 16 tires times one minute and a half each change is a lot.”
“We’ll see what happens tomorrow,” he said.
Spaniard Carlos Sainz in another Mini was a further 30 seconds back in third. Saudi Yazeed Al-Rajhi was fourth in a Toyota.
Briton Sam Sunderland, 2017 Dakar champion, won the motorbike category, the KTM rider timing 4hr 35min 21 sec for the stage, maintaining a comfortable 2:40 lead over the Husqvarna ridden by Pablo Quintanilla.
“I knew that today was one of my last chances to try to win and I gave my all, all day,” said Sunderland.
“We still have one day to go and many things can happen on one stage.”
Argentina’s Kevin Benavides increased his lead in the overall standings over American Honda teammate and defending champion Ricky Brabec to 7:13, with Sunderland currently second, at 4:12.
“We did a really good job with Ricky,” said Benavides, who broke his nose as he shattered his helmet jumping off a dune on stage five.
“It was a really hard day, very long with plenty of navigation, a lot of sand and dunes.”
Benavides added: “With Ricky we pushed together on the dunes… Tomorrow we will push like every day, no other strategy than that.
“There are no team orders and yes, the race is still open.”
There was drama on the stage as Spain’s Joan Barreda, a two-stage winner also on a Honda, exited the race after missing a refueling stop and subsequently running out of petrol.
DUBAI: When UFC Fight Island took place at Du Forum in Abu Dhabi last July, it became the first international competition to attract athletes from around the globe following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was followed in late September by Fight Island 2, which proved equally successful and popular among fans and fighters alike.
So it is no surprise that the organizers – Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT), and UFC – have decided to kick off 2021 with Fight Island 3, taking place on Jan. 16, 20, and 24.
And this time fans will be allowed in to watch the action, which will climax with Conor McGregor taking on Dustin Poirier at UFC 257.
“The concept of fight Island was born out of COVID, it was born out of the need for live entertainment at a time when the whole world was at a standstill,” said Nour Al Harmoudi, UFC Associate project manager, DCT.
“Abu Dhabi was the perfect place to host Fight Island, it was not only remote but it was super safe. Abu Dhabi, in itself, was a safe zone bubble, because of the safety measure that they had decided to partake. So Fight Island came, and then Return to Fight Island was another huge success. So, it seems very natural to create a Fight Island triple-header while we are still in the pandemic.
“It doesn’t make sense to open up all the way for fans while the pandemic is still happening. So what we decided to do is open up for some fans during the triple-header week,” she added. “It was an easy decision to take but we had to take even stricter measures this time around.”
Al Harmoudi revealed that members of the media will have to test every 48 hours, and will quarantine for a similar period on arrival to Yas Island. The participants, too, will have to show a 48-hour valid negative PCR test upon entering.
“There will be thermal scanning, social distancing, we will have to avoid any type of congregation,” said Al Harmoudi.
“Even F and B will be ordered through an app. And as you know we will be hosting this at Etihad Arena, it will be the inaugural event there. The arena itself is 18,000-seater. It’s massive, however to abide by the COVID measures, to abide by the highest health and safety procedures and standards, we have only allowed 2,000 fans per event. That way we will have a more controlled environment and safer environment.”
No doubt, McGregor’s presence has already drummed up feverish interest in the event, with the 2,000 tickets offered snapped up within hours.
“It’s exciting to have McGregor here, it’s his debut in this region,” Al Harmoudi said.
“We’re so happy that it’s in Abu Dhabi and on Fight Island and triple-header week. This is the fruit that we have reaped out of the Abu Dhabi and UFC relationship, we’ve only had creme de la creme fighters. We’re always going to be bringing the best of the best athletes and fighters that the fans could ever ask for. So McGregor coming in has created a lot of excitement. And we’re again excited to see Dustin Poirier, who was here in Abu Dhabi in 2019.”
The return of fans to arenas is not only good news for UFC and Yas Island, but for all potential events taking place in the region this year, sporting or otherwise.
“The world is opening up slowly, even with the new COVID strain,” said Al Harmoudi.
“We are taking precautions, we are adhering to global standards of health and safety. We are trying our best to create these events in a safe setting, and to also host fans hungry for live events. To enjoy themselves and to enjoy the entertainment and performances of UFC or otherwise while they feel safe and comfortable, and without exposing them to any risk. We would love to host more fans but we have to see what the world has in store for us in 2021.”
In the early hours of Sunday Morning, the eyes of MMA fans will turn to the magnificent new Etihad Arena, which will be holding its first ever UFC event.
“Etihad arena is massive,” Al Harmoudi said. “It’s a state-of-the-art arena, it’s multi-purpose. It’s an 18,000-seater, so you can only imagine the crowds that will be at this arena when the world opens up. From entertainment, UFC, music concerts. It’s right by Yas Bay, it has a beautiful parking lot with a view of the Marina, and I think there is so much more yet to come for Etihad Arena that will blow everyone’s minds.”
Al Harmoudi is confident that, with the continuation of the partnership between DCT-Abu Dhabi and UFC, fight fans can expect a lot more in the coming months and years.
“UFC came to Abu Dhabi in 2019 and we had a five-year plan with them,” she said. “So whether or not Fight Island was going to happen, we were always going to see UFC on a yearly basis for the next five years. With Fight Island, this just strengthens the relationship between Abu Dhabi and UFC, it just really cements Abu Dhabi in terms of being the fighting capital of the world like Dana white has already said. Or the new home for the UFC in this region outside of Las Vegas. This is huge, and we’re really excited and really looking forward to even more fruitful partnerships with UFC. This is just the beginning.”