Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi, Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah head for world rally title showdown in Abu Dhabi

Yazeed Al-Rajhi won on his last visit to the UAE. (Supplied/Total Communications)
Yazeed Al-Rajhi won on his last visit to the UAE. (Supplied/Total Communications)
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Updated 28 October 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi, Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah head for world rally title showdown in Abu Dhabi

Yazeed Al-Rajhi won on his last visit to the UAE. (Supplied/Total Communications)
  • Al-Attiyah leads the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies championship standings from Al-Rajhi, with Argentinian Lucio Alvarez and Russian Denis Krotov also in the hunt

ABU DHABI: The battle for the drivers’ title in the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies reaches a critical point in the 2021 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, with the top four contenders heading for a showdown in the penultimate round of the series.

Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, on 61 points, leads the championship standings from Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi (44 points), with Argentinian Lucio Alvarez (42 points) and Russian Denis Krotov (37.5 points) also in the hunt and contesting the 30th anniversary event in the UAE from Nov. 6-11.

Partnered by Mathieu Baumel in a Toyota Hilux, Al-Attiyah knows that a third Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge career victory following his win in last month’s Rally of Morocco could be enough to clinch the crown.

Al-Rajhi and Irish co-driver Michael Orr, in a Toyota Hilux Overdrive, have other ideas, and will take confidence from the fact that their last visit to the UAE in February produced victory in the Dubai International Baja.

A World Cup first round win in Kazakhstan, meanwhile, underlined the credentials of Alvarez and Spanish navigator Armand Monleón in another Toyota Hilux, and a big performance among the Al-Dhafra dunes could boost their title hopes, with the final event to follow in Saudi next month.

Driving a MINI John Cooper Works Rally, Krotov certainly cannot be discounted, particularly as he is co-driven by compatriot Konstantin Zhiltsov, who has twice guided Vladimir Vasilyev to wins in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

As the cars, buggies, bikes and quads sweep across the Al-Dhafra dunes, Abu Dhabi Aviation helicopters will provide potentially life-saving aerial search and rescue support for the medical crews on permanent standby to be taken to the aid of competitors in trouble.

Nader Ahmed Al-Hammadi, chairman of Abu Dhabi Aviation, said: “Abu Dhabi Aviation seeks to secure elements of strength and safety for the success of this year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge by providing air support for the global event (with) three advanced helicopters (Bell 412 and 212) used for logistical support and air ambulance purposes, in addition to search and rescue operations.

“This makes the participation of the Abu Dhabi Aviation’s aircraft vital in giving contestants and observers a sense of safety,” he added. “Our presence is considered a key element of the rally’s success given the harsh environmental conditions represented by the desert, especially (as) the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is the longest desert rally in the Middle East,”

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, president of the EMSO and FIA vice president for sport, said: “We’re indebted to Abu Dhabi Aviation for the vital role they play, year after year, in ensuring the safety of competitors in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. This is a major factor behind the event’s long running success.”

Taking place under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the ruler’s representative in Al-Dhafra region, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is also the final round of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship for bikes.

The rally is supported by the ruler’s representative, the UAE Armed Forces, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Abu Dhabi Police, ADNOC, Yas Island, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi Municipality, Al-Dhafra Region Municipality, Al-Ain Water and Tadweer.


Verstappen heads to Monaco where Leclerc awaits a change of luck

Verstappen heads to Monaco where Leclerc awaits a change of luck
Updated 26 May 2022

Verstappen heads to Monaco where Leclerc awaits a change of luck

Verstappen heads to Monaco where Leclerc awaits a change of luck
  • Verstappen took control of the championship by easing six points clear of Monegasque driver Leclerc of Ferrari, who was forced into retirement at the Circuit de Catalunya

MONACO: World champion Max Verstappen heads home this weekend hoping to survive the chaos and beat archrival and luckless local hero Charles Leclerc again in Sunday’s 79th running of the Monaco Grand Prix.

Just days after leading his teammate Sergio Perez over the line in a Red Bull 1-2 last weekend in Spain, the 24-year-old Dutchman will bid for a repeat to consolidate his grip at the top of this year’s title race.

Verstappen took control of the championship by easing six points clear of Monegasque driver Leclerc of Ferrari, who was forced into retirement at the Circuit de Catalunya.

He seeks a fourth consecutive win and second in the classic contest in Sunday’s potentially rain-affected race.

“Qualifying is critical, like always,” said the 2021 victor.

“Monaco is always a hectic weekend, but special. The track is old school, narrow and it makes your heart rate go so high it’s insane.

“We have to be constantly on the edge. It’s a pretty crazy place with Formula One cars! I finally won there last year — and it was a massive relief to cross the line.”

Like Leclerc, who was born and lives in the Mediterranean principality, Verstappen is based there — for climatic and tax purposes — along with several other drivers including seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.

As a result, they enjoy an intimate knowledge of the circuit regarded as the most iconic and glamorous on the F1 calendar, but also the rare luxury of sleeping at home during a race weekend.

For Leclerc, however, that comfort has yet to be of any help on the tight, unforgiving and sinuous barrier-lined street track that requires total concentration and extraordinary driver skills.

At just 3.337 kilometers, it is the shortest on the calendar, offers few overtaking opportunities, rapid and multiple gear changes and tricky changes in elevation and direction. Only 42 percent of the lap is run at full speed, the lowest of the year.

Despite knowing all this and having gone by bus to school on the same stretches of asphalt, Leclerc has yet to finish his home Grand Prix in three attempts since 2018. Last year, after crashing on Saturday, he could not start Sunday’s race.

Before that, he had to retire after starting from pole in a Formula Two race in 2017 and, more recently, earlier this month, crashed a classic 1974 Ferrari, raced by Niki Lauda, at a historic demonstration event.

Yet he remains calm and optimistic, hoping a change to the classic Monaco routine this year — with practice starting on Friday, and not Thursday, as was once traditional — will help.

“I think it gives us the rhythm of the other races, which could be good so I am looking forward to that and giving it a go,” he said, deflecting any negative thoughts after a power failure in Spain, while leading, brought him his first DNF (Did Not Finish) of the season.

“My attitude is always the same, regardless,” he added. “Every point is valuable. We know that even the smallest mistake can make a bid difference.”

After dominating practice and starting from pole in Spain, Leclerc and Ferrari will hope they can continue to set the pace, but they know Red Bull will be a threat and reliability a key factor.

“Since the start of the season, the team that has done everything perfectly was the one to win. We will do everything to be that team,” said Leclerc.

“We have the confidence that we can make it, which is a good starting point.”

After returning to competitive form with a heavily upgraded car in Spain, where George Russell was third and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton fifth, Mercedes will also be hopeful, but realistic.

“We made a big step and halved the advantage of the front-runners,” said team chief Toto Wolff.

“But there’s still a long way to go. And Monaco was not our happiest place in the past. My expectations are lower than at any other circuit.”

Mercedes have won only once since 2016 after winning four in a row and the unique showpiece race has been Red Bull’s twice in three years since Ferrari’s last win in 2017, with Sebastian Vettel.

To many observers, another Ferrari win and an end to Leclerc’s agonies is long overdue.


Carapaz keeps slim Giro lead, Buitrago scores breakthrough victory in tough 17th stage

Carapaz keeps slim Giro lead, Buitrago scores breakthrough victory in tough 17th stage
Updated 26 May 2022

Carapaz keeps slim Giro lead, Buitrago scores breakthrough victory in tough 17th stage

Carapaz keeps slim Giro lead, Buitrago scores breakthrough victory in tough 17th stage
  • Thursday’s 18th stage should see a sprint finish after a flat circuit around Treviso at the end of a 156-kilometer (97-mile) route from Borgo Valsugana, that includes two fourth-category climbs

LAVARONE, Italy: Race favorite Richard Carapaz maintained his slim overall lead of the Giro d’Italia after a tough 17th stage which was won by Santiago Buitrago for his first grand tour victory.

Carapaz remained three seconds ahead of 2020 runner-up Jai Hindley — with just four days of racing remaining — after both crossed the line together at the end of the 168-kilometer (104-mile) route from Ponte di Legno to Lavarone, which packed in almost 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) of climbing.

Mikel Landa finished six seconds behind the duo but moved into third overall, 1 minute and five seconds behind Carapaz. He surpassed João Almeida who was dropped on the second of the two top-category climbs that came in the final 40 kilometers of the race.

“It’s been a really hard stage,” said Carapaz, who rides for the powerful Ineos Grenadiers team. “I think we’re happy, every day everything is being defined a bit more, everything is clearing up in the (general classification) and I’m happy to have the jersey for another day.”

Buitrago had been in tears after finishing second on Sunday’s 15th stage. There were more tears from the Colombian cyclist on Wednesday, but this time of joy after soloing to victory.

The 22-year-old recovered from a crash halfway through the day to get back to the breakaway and then launched his attack toward the top of the final climb, cresting it alone and speeding down the final eight kilometers.

Buitrago, who rides for Team Bahrain Victorious, finished 35 seconds ahead of Gijs Leemreize — who had been leading on the steep climb to Monterovere — and 2:28 ahead of Jan Hirt.

“I’m really emotional. It’s my first Giro,” Buitrago said. “I needed to have a cold head on the final climb … I felt like I had the legs and I wanted to try and I went for it. I knew I had to go over on my own to try and win the stage.”

Thursday’s 18th stage should see a sprint finish after a flat circuit around Treviso at the end of a 156-kilometer (97-mile) route from Borgo Valsugana, that includes two fourth-category climbs.

“Tomorrow will still be an important day,” Carapaz said. “We have to get through the remaining days, no day is easy and we’ve got a really difficult weekend coming up.”

The Giro ends on Sunday in Verona.


PGA champion Thomas back to work after 'unfathomable' Southern Hills triumph

PGA champion Thomas back to work after 'unfathomable' Southern Hills triumph
Updated 26 May 2022

PGA champion Thomas back to work after 'unfathomable' Southern Hills triumph

PGA champion Thomas back to work after 'unfathomable' Southern Hills triumph
  • Thomas’ comeback matched the greatest last-day comeback in PGA Championship history

LOS ANGELES: Justin Thomas is getting right back to work after his “unfathomable” victory at the PGA Championship at Southern Hills on Sunday.

The Texan tees it up on Thursday at Colonial Country Club on Thursday, still trying to fully comprehend how his second major title came about.

“I haven’t had a chance to watch the full coverage on Sunday, which I’d like to, but I did happen to see — when I was putting on nine, I was eight back,” Thomas said Wednesday.

“I was eight back with 10 holes to go. That’s unfathomable. If I was looking at leaderboards, I probably would not have thought I even had a chance to win.

“It’s a huge learning lesson for me. You’ve got to play golf. Those majors and in golf tournaments, anything can happen. I just kind of kept plugging along, and somehow it happened.”

Thomas’ comeback matched the greatest last-day comeback in PGA Championship history. He beat Will Zalatoris in a playoff after Chilean Mito Pereira’s heartbreaking 72nd hole collapse.

Thomas, who reached No. 1 in the world in 2018, moved to fifth in the world on the strength of the victory, acknowledged it was something of a relief to at last add a second major to the PGA Championship he won in 2017.

“Definitely glad that I could finally answer the question of when am I going to get my second versus just being a one-hit wonder,” Thomas said.

But he hasn’t taken much time to savor the accomplishment.

“I have a golf tournament this week, and I’m just trying to perform and play as well as I possibly can,” Thomas said. “Hopefully give us something else to celebrate.”

He said much of his two days off had been spent trying to catch up on rest after an exhausting week in Oklahoma.

His 15th PGA Tour victory was his first in more than a year.

“I feel like I’ve been playing some of the best golf of my career the last year and have literally had nothing to show for it, had no wins, and it just was like, man, it’s hard to win out here,” Thomas said.

Thomas, who is joined in the field by Zalatoris and Pereira, said the classic course at Colonial offers a similar challenge to Southern Hills.

“This course is right in front of you, very similar to last week in terms of off the tee you know what you’re getting and you can play it hitting a lot of different clubs off tees,” he said, adding that he relished the mental challenge.

“A lot of places nowadays is just kind of bomb it, send it as far as you can and just get it somewhere around the green, and the greens are so big that you can usually get up-and-down,” Thomas said. “A place like here, (the greens) are so small, have some very subtle undulation — you just have to be smart around here.”


Alcaraz, Zverev pull off French Open escapes as Nadal, Djokovic cruise

Alcaraz, Zverev pull off French Open escapes as Nadal, Djokovic cruise
Updated 26 May 2022

Alcaraz, Zverev pull off French Open escapes as Nadal, Djokovic cruise

Alcaraz, Zverev pull off French Open escapes as Nadal, Djokovic cruise
  • The 19-year-old Alcaraz is attempting to become just the eighth teenager to capture a major men’s title, and backed as the man to break the stranglehold of Djokovic and Nadal

PARIS: Spanish teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz and third seed Alexander Zverev both saved a match point in five-set French Open thrillers, while 13-time winner Rafael Nadal and reigning champion Novak Djokovic eased into the third round Wednesday.

Alcaraz, widely tipped as a title contender, rallied from the brink to defeat compatriot Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-1, 6-7 (7/9), 5-7, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4 after four hours and 34 minutes.

“I feel tired,” said Alcaraz. “It was a great battle, a great match and we fought until the last point.”

The 19-year-old Alcaraz is attempting to become just the eighth teenager to capture a major men’s title, and backed as the man to break the stranglehold of Djokovic and Nadal.

But he was pushed to the limit by the seasoned Ramos-Vinolas, 15 years his elder and whose best performance at a Grand Slam came when he made the quarterfinals in Paris six years ago.

Alcaraz, the tour’s dominant player in 2022 with a season-leading four titles, fought off a match point to break Ramos-Vinolas as he served at 5-4 in the fourth set.

He then clawed his way back from 3-0 in the decider, producing an outrageous backhand pass to retrieve the break and more sensational baseline scrambling to move 5-4 in front before closing out victory with an ace.

Alcaraz goes on to face US 27th seed Sebastian Korda, the last man to defeat him at Monte Carlo in April in what was his only loss in 19 matches on clay this season.

Zverev, a 2021 semifinalist, dug himself out of a deep hole against Argentina’s Sebastian Baez to avoid his earliest loss at a major in three years.

Zverev overcame Baez 2-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 7-5 and will play Brandon Nakashima of the US for a place in the last 16.

“I’m happy still being in the tournament right now,” said Zverev, who was match point down on serve at 4-5 in the final set.

“I was planning my holiday in Monaco, where I was going to go and who I was going to with and that relaxed me, thinking about the beach.

“You just have to find a way.”

It was the third comeback from a two-set deficit in Zverev’s career. He trailed fellow German Oscar Otte 2-0 in the opening round at Roland Garros a year ago before his run to the last four.

Nadal breezed past French wildcard Corentin Moutet 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 for the 300th Grand Slam win of his career. Roger Federer (369) and Djokovic (325) are the only men to have more than the record 21-time major champion.

His French Open record now stands at a staggering 107 wins and just three losses since his 2005 title-winning debut.

“I think it was a good match against a very difficult player with lots of talent,” said Nadal, whose build-up to the tournament was hampered by a foot injury.

“The last couple of months haven’t been easy. The victories help a lot.”

Djokovic made comfortable work of Slovakia’s Alex Molcan, the world No. 1 winning 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (7/4) against a player trained by his long-time former coach Marian Vajda, the man who inspired most of his 20 Grand Slam titles.

“So far so good. I’m pleased with the way I’m feeling on the court,” Djokovic said after reaching the last 32 at Roland Garros for the 17th straight year.

“It was never going to be an easy match, but I thought I performed very well. Everything is going in the right direction. I’m looking forward to the next challenge.”

The top seed will continue his bid for a third Roland Garros crown against Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene in the last 32.

However, Maria Sakkari became the fifth women’s top-10 seed to exit after going down 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/4) to Czech world No. 81 Karolina Muchova.

Sakkari, the fourth seed from Greece, was a point away from reaching the final at Roland Garros last year.

Her defeat left the women’s draw without four of its top six seeds as she followed defending champion Barbora Krejcikova, Anett Kontaveit and Ons Jabeur through the exit door.

Muchova will next play 27th seed Amanda Anisimova, who made the last four in Paris three years ago.

“It’s very special, she’s an amazing player. It was a big fight, a little bit of a test and challenge for me and I’m happy I took it the way I did,” said Muchova.

Former Grand Slam champions Angelique Kerber and Victoria Azarenka also advanced to the third round.


Roma beats Feyenoord 1-0 to win Europa Conference League title

Roma beats Feyenoord 1-0 to win Europa Conference League title
Updated 26 May 2022

Roma beats Feyenoord 1-0 to win Europa Conference League title

Roma beats Feyenoord 1-0 to win Europa Conference League title

TIRANA, Albania: José Mourinho had described Roma as “a giant club” lacking a trophy room to match the team’s social dimension and passionate fan base.
Well, the Giallorossi claimed their first European title in more than six decades Wednesday to crown Mourinho’s first season coaching in the Italian capital.
Nicolò Zaniolo scored in the first half, goalkeeper Rui Patrício made some big saves in the second and Roma beat Feyenoord 1-0 to win the inaugural edition of the third-tier Europa Conference League.
“Today wasn’t work, this was history,” Mourinho said. “Either you write it or you don’t and we wrote it. I’ve been at Roma for 11 months and I realized the moment I arrived what it meant — that they were waiting for this.”
It’s Roma’s first European trophy since winning the 1961 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup — a tournament considered to be the precursor to the UEFA Cup and Europa League. It’s also the first title of any kind for Roma since winning the 2008 Italian Cup.
“Now we’ve got to celebrate — a lot,” said Roma captain Lorenzo Pellegrini. “But then we’ve got to keep going. A real team wins then comes back even stronger than before.”
Besides the few thousand Roma spectators inside the small National Arena in Tirana, some 50,000 fans watched the game on giant screens at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. At the final whistle, the fans at the Olimpico celebrated on the pitch waving banners and chanting the team’s songs
There were violent clashes in Tirana between fans of both clubs ahead of the final, and dozens were deported back to Italy.
Two separate groups of Dutch and Italian fans clashed with police on Tuesday in the city, injuring 19 officers and five Albanian civilians. One police officer was injured from a knife attack, authorities said. Three Italian fans and two Dutch supporters were also injured.
Inside the stadium, flares were thrown onto the field and stewards removed a few fans before kickoff after an apparent fight on the side where Dutch fans were sitting.
The situation appeared to be under control after kickoff.
Zaniolo’s goal started with a ball over the top from center back Gianluca Mancini that Zaniolo controlled with his chest. Zaniolo then pushed the ball past onrushing goalkeeper Justin Bijlow with the tip of his boot.

Roma's Italian midfielder and captain Pellegrini kisses the trophy as Roma's players celebrate after winning the UEFA Europa Conference League final football match in Tirana on May 25, 2022. (AFP)


“Stupendous. Let’s enjoy this moment,” Zaniolo said, before gesturing to the Roma fans. “There are no words to describe it. It’s all for them.”
Zaniolo has often been labeled as Italy’s most talented young player. But he’s been held back by two serious knee injuries, one of which kept him out for all of last season and prevented him from taking part in the Azzurri’s run to the European Championship title.
At 22 years and 327 days, Zaniolo became the youngest Italian player to score in a European final since Alessandro Del Piero’s goal at 22 years and 200 days for Juventus in a loss to Borussia Dortmund in the 1997 Champions League final.
An attacking midfielder, Zaniolo produced five goals and three assists in 10 Conference League games.
After Zaniolo’s goal, Mourinho — realizing how long there was to go — gestured for his excited bench players to sit and calm down.
Feyenoord came out energized after the break and quickly hit the post twice, first with a close-range effort from Gernot Trauner then with a long-range blast from Tyrell Malacia that Rui Patricio palmed off the upright.
Mourinho extended his perfect record in European finals to five trophies in five matches, having also won the 2003 UEFA Cup and 2004 Champions League finals with Porto; the 2010 Champions League final with Inter Milan; and the 2017 Europa League final with Manchester United.
At the final whistle, Mourinho held up five fingers to signify his five European titles as he jumped up and down in celebration.
Mourinho was also the coach who guided the last Italian club to win a European title when Inter’s treble in 2010 included the Champions League.
“This remains in the history of Roma, but also mine,” the 59-year-old Mourinho said. “I was told that only I, Sir Alex (Ferguson) and Giovanni Trapattoni won European trophies in three different decades. It makes me feel a little old, but it’s nice for my career.”
It was a typical Mourinho match: take an early lead then defend, defend, defend.
“We know that when we take the lead we’re great at defending,” Mancini said. “In matches like these you’ve got to defend until the last second.”
Roma had lost its two previous continental finals, defeated by domestic rival Inter Milan in the 1991 UEFA Cup and dropping a penalty shootout to Liverpool in the 1984 European Cup final in its home stadium.
“This is really a prize for the Friedkins, who gave this club a new identity,” Roma sports director Tiago Pinto said, referring to the club’s American owners. “It definitely won’t be the only trophy.”