Alonso second on Dakar stage eight, behind Serradori

Toyota’s Hilux Overdrive driver Peter Van Merksteijn of the Netherlands and co-driver Michael Orr of Britain compete in the Stage 8 of the Dakar 2020 around Wadi Ad-Dawasir. (AFP)
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Updated 13 January 2020

Alonso second on Dakar stage eight, behind Serradori

  • Serradori finished 4min 4sec ahead of Toyota’s Alonso, with Argentinean Mini driver Orlando Terranova in third, at 6:19
  • Alonso, who had finished four times in the top 10 without having made the podium in a stage, was quick to heap praise on his co-driver/navigator Marc Coma

WADI AD-DAWASIR, Saudi Arabia: Two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso recorded his best result of the Dakar Rally on Monday, finishing second behind Frenchman Mathieu Serradori on stage eight.
The stage was shrouded in mourning after the death on Sunday of Portuguese rider Paulo Goncalves.
The motorbike and quadbike categories were canceled for the stage, a 477km loop incorporating straight sections with several chains of dunes to test handling skills.
“I’d like to dedicate this victory to Paulo because I’m a former biker,” said Serradori, an amateur who drives an SRT.
“It’s not easy to get motivated after a day like that and my co-pilot Fabien was there as well. But there are two fighters in the car and I’m very happy with this result.”
Serradori finished 4min 4sec ahead of Toyota’s Alonso, with Argentinean Mini driver Orlando Terranova in third, at 6:19.
Alonso, who had finished four times in the top 10 without having made the podium in a stage, was quick to heap praise on his co-driver/navigator Marc Coma, a five-time Dakar champion on a motorbike.
“Today we had an amazing day,” said Alonso. “We had one puncture unfortunately and we lost a little bit of momentum there, but otherwise the stage was nearly perfect and Marc was unbelievable, you know — the dunes, the navigation.
In his first Dakar Alonso had limited ambitions ruled out winning a stage but now he believes it is within his grasp.
“Initially I thought it was impossible,” he said. “But after today, obviously when you are second maybe there is a chance, so we will try.”
He said not having motorbikes setting the route had upset the rhythm of the stage.
“Having no bikes changed a lot, especially for the first two or three cars,” he said.
“I benefitted from starting from the back... I’m happy to complete the day without any issues. It was a beautiful stage, quite fast with a lot of dunes, so it was good. I think the dunes are harder than tracks, but for whatever reason I feel more comfortable.
“I’m not coming from the dunes at all but it seems that I can get a good rhythm and a good flow in the dunes and I’m enjoying so far this second week of the Dakar.”
His second place sees him consolidate his 13th place in the overall standings, more than 3hr 10min off the pace set by Carlos Sainz.
The battle continues atop the general classification between the leading trio of two-time winner Sainz, defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah and Stephane Peterhansel, a 13-time winner (seven in cars, six on bikes).
Sainz had to open the way on the stage and was swiftly caught by Al-Attiyah and Peterhansel. But the veteran Spaniard then drove his Mini to keep pace with his rivals, meaning he retains the rally lead, 6:40 ahead of the Qatari and 13:09 in front of the Frenchman.
Tuesday’s 9th stage sees the cavalcade travel to the eastern town of Haradh on a 410km special.


Africa Cup switch to winter sends a chill through European leagues

Updated 21 January 2020

Africa Cup switch to winter sends a chill through European leagues

  • High-profile African players playing in England include the Arsenal duo Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang of Gabon and Nicolas Pepe of Cote d’Ivoire

CAIRO: There is little doubt that the switch by the Africa Cup of Nations from summer to winter competition will have a big impact on European competitions, with those at the top of the Premier League perhaps most affected.

The confederation confirmed that from 2021 when Cameroon will play host, the tournament will revert back to being played in January and February.

The tournament was moved to a June-July slot for last year’s edition in Egypt, which meant minimal disruption to the European domestic season. But plenty of Premier League managers will be left with problems this time next year, with several stars likely to leave for up to six weeks, including pre-tournament preparations.

Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp appears to face the biggest headache given that two of his star attacking players, Mohamed Salah from Egypt and Sadio Mane from Senegal, both featured in the African tournament last summer and are almost certain to be involved in the 2021 competition in some capacity.

High-profile African players playing in England include the Arsenal duo Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang of Gabon and Nicolas Pepe of Cote d’Ivoire, while Manchester City will lose Riyad Mahrez should Algeria feature.

Klopp is critical of the decision to move the tournament dates, calling it “a catastrophe.” Salah and Mane’s absence would leave huge gaps in the Liverpool side. There is also Cameroon’s Joel Matip and Guinea’s Naby Keita to worry about. Matip has become solid at the back. Keita, too, would be a loss given his recent resurgence.

The Liverpool manager is upset because last year’s tournament was moved to mid-year to end a long-standing clash between clubs and countries over the release of their players. It was felt that common sense had prevailed when the tournament, which since 1960 had always been held during winter, reverted to summer. African players in western European clubs would no longer find themselves the target of competing claims for their attention every other season, which would benefit the players and their clubs and countries, and lead to fewer squabbles.

But then Cameroon changed its mind about hosting the tournament in summer next year, changing the dates from June and July to between Jan. 6 and Feb. 6. Why? The weather. It’s simply too hot in Cameroon in summer.

Organizers said they had agreed to the change after discussions with player and coach representatives.

But didn’t Cameroon know beforehand that its summers are too hot, too humid and right in the middle of its rainy season? That the country does not enjoy ideal conditions for football in summer could not have taken its organizers by complete surprise.

The situation serves as a vivid reminder of the botch-up of the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The host and FIFA decided that the World Cup, which is forever played in summer, would be moved to winter because of Qatar’s oppressive heat — but that decision came only after Qatar won the bid. That change, again, will mean a head-on clash with international tournaments and club competitions.

A football tournament simply cannot keep changing when it will be held as often as people change their socks. This is especially true for the Africa Cup of Nations, which is played every two years.

A major sports tournament must have fixed times. And, to be sure, its organizers should understand that you can’t please everybody. A championship’s times are bound to clash with some tournament or other. The African tournament, for example, will avoid a clash with FIFA’s revamped 24-team Club World Cup to be played in China in June and July 2021. But it cannot but conflict with European leagues. The important thing is to stay the course. Once a date is picked, it should be stuck to like glue.