Alonso survives first Dakar stage in Saudi Arabia dominated by Minis

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Bahrain JCW X-Raid team Mini's driver Stephane Peterhansel of France and his co-driver Paulo Fiuza of Portugal compete during the Stage 1 of the Dakar 2020 between Jeddah and Al Wajh. (AFP)
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A driver makes early morning preparations on Sunday, ahead of the 2020 Dakar Rally. (AFP)
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Monster Energy Honda Team's Ricky Brabec in action during stage one of the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia. (Reuters)
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Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing Team ridden by Andrew Short of the US in action during stage one. (Reuters)
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Borgward Rally Team driven by Spain's Nani Roma and Daniel Oliveras Carreras in action during stage one. (Reuters)
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Team Toyota Gazoo Racing driven by Netherlands' Bernhard ten Brinke and Belgium's Tom Colsoul in action during stage one. (Reuters)
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French driver Romain Dumas and co-driver Alexandre Winocq car burns during the Stage 1 of the Dakar 2020 between Jeddah and Al Wajh, Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
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Red Bull Ktm factory team biker Toby Price of Australia powers his Ktm motorbike during the Stage 1 of the Dakar 2020 between Jeddah and Al Wajh. (AFP)
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Updated 06 January 2020

Alonso survives first Dakar stage in Saudi Arabia dominated by Minis

  • Alonso, is trying to make history as the first Formula One champion to win the event

AL-WAJH, Saudi Arabia: Dakar Rally debutant Fernando Alonso avoided any first stage pitfalls as the 2020 edition of motorsport's gruelling 7,500 kilometre marathon began in Saudi Arabia on Sunday.
Alonso, trying to make history as the first Formula One champion to win the event, completed the drive from Jeddah to Al Wajh in his Toyota in 11th place.

 


The 38-year-old Spaniard, with five-time Dakar bike champion Marc Coma navigating, was over quarter of an hour behind surprise stage winner Vaidotas Zala.
The Lithuanian led home a 1-2-3 for Mini, 2mins 14sec clear of teammates Stephane Peterhansel, the 13-time Dakar champion, and Carlos Sainz.
'Mr Dakar', as France's Peterhansel is affectionately known, struggled with a language barrier with his new co-driver Paulo Fiuza.
"In 21 editions of the Dakar, I've never had a co-driver talk to me in English, so I need to get used to it," he said.

 

Reflecting on a solid first day's drive Peterhansel added: "There were dunes, sandy plateaus and rocky sectors where we had to walk on eggshells. We're good at adapting to these conditions, we're nimble!"
Last year's winner Nasser Al-Attiyah led the way for over 200km but he had to settle for fourth place after problems with his Toyota.
"It was a hard day, we had three punctures in 10 kilometres, I have no clue what went wrong, it's rather strange," reported the Qatari, over five minutes adrift.
One driver facing an early flight home was France's two-time Le Mans 24 Hour winner Romain Dumas, who could only watch from a safe distance as flames engulfed his car after only 65km.
Defending motorbike champion Toby Price won Sunday's first bike stage, despite losing his roadbook.
"Once the road book is gone, then you're pretty much driving blind," said the 32-year-old Australian.
The KTM rider completed the 752km route over two minutes clear of American Ricky Brabec on a Honda with Austrian Matthias Walkner on another KTM in third.
Monday's second stage is 401km to Neom, a planned futuristic city being built on the Red Sea.


Cold comfort as Roland Garros starts in shadow of coronavirus

Updated 27 September 2020

Cold comfort as Roland Garros starts in shadow of coronavirus

  • A resurgence of COVID-19 cases means that only 1,000 spectators will be allowed into the grounds each day

PARIS: Roland Garros gets underway in chilly, damp Paris on Sunday still in the grip of the coronavirus which organizers had hoped they would escape by unilaterally pushing back the clay court Grand Slam event by four months.
Opening day will see 2018 champion Simona Halep start her bid for a third major while 40-year-old Venus Williams kicks off her 23rd French Open.
Andy Murray takes on fellow three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka in the day’s marquee tie in a rematch of their epic 2017 semifinal duel.
However, it will be an eerily unfamiliar tournament, even for defending champion Rafael Nadal, chasing a 13th Paris title, and 2016 winner and world number one Novak Djokovic, as well as Serena Williams, pursuing an elusive 24th major.
A resurgence of COVID-19 cases means that only 1,000 spectators will be allowed into the grounds each day.
In 2019, more than 500,000 people watched the two-week tournament on site.
Organizers had hoped to welcome 20,000 fans a day but in the space of just a few weeks, that figure was quickly downsized to 11,500, then 5,000 before the French government slashed it to a 1,000 maximum.
“Tens of millions of euros have gone up in smoke,” said French Tennis Federation marketing chief Stephane Morel as he mourned the loss of ticket income.
Players, meanwhile, have been confined to two tournament hotels with tight restrictions on their movements.
It’s at the hotels where they undergo Covid-19 testing, a source of controversy and recrimination in the build-up.
Last weekend, five players due to take part in men’s qualifying were stood down.
Two had tested positive while three others had been in contact with coach Petar Popovic who also tested positive.
Popovic told L’Equipe it was a “scandal” and had “(Rafael) Nadal been in our shoes, he would have had the right to a second or third test.”
On Friday, veteran Spaniard Fernando Verdasco said he was “outraged and frustrated” after being withdrawn following one failed Covid-19 test which he claimed fell between a steady stream of negative results.
Verdasco said he should have been allowed a second test.
Inside the grounds of Roland Garros, situated in the prosperous western district of Paris, there are further signs of the effect of the pandemic.
Normally bustling shops, food outlets and other commercial stalls have been shuttered.
Everyone at the tournament, including players if they are not in action or in practice, is masked. Hand sanitizers dot the site.
Instead of the early summer sun usually associated with the tournament in its traditional May-June slot, players will shiver in 16°C on Sunday with rain and high winds forecast for the first week.
That should mean overtime for the new retractable roof over the showpiece Court Philippe Chatrier.
On court Sunday, Halep, the top seed in the absence of world number one Ashleigh Barty, who opted not to defend her title on health grounds, takes on Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo, ranked at 70.
Wimbledon champion Halep is the favorite especially with US Open champion Naomi Osaka missing through injury.
Former world number one Murray tackles 2015 champion Wawrinka in his first appearance in Paris in three years.