‘Mr Dakar’ strikes as title beckons for Al-Attiyah

‘Mr Dakar’ strikes as title beckons for Al-Attiyah
Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah and co-driver Frenchman Mathieu Baumel during Stage 10 of the Dakar Rally 2022, between Wadi ad-Dawasir and Bisha, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 12, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 12 January 2022

‘Mr Dakar’ strikes as title beckons for Al-Attiyah

‘Mr Dakar’ strikes as title beckons for Al-Attiyah
  • Qatari three-time winner, Nasser Al-Attiyah, heads into Thursday’s penultimate stage 32min 40sec clear of France’s nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb
  • ‘Mr Dakar’, Stephane Peterhansel, the only competitor to win the famed rally in Africa, South America and Asia won Stage 10 in his Audi hybrid

BISHA, Saudi Arabia: The Dakar Rally’s record 14-time champion Stephane Peterhansel powered to stage 10 success on Wednesday as only a mechanical meltdown appears now to stand between Nasser Al-Attiyah and the 2022 title.
The Qatari three-time winner heads into Thursday’s penultimate stage 32min 40sec clear of France’s nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb.
“The gap is too big and the race is no longer in our hands, but we’re still hanging in there,” shrugged Loeb after the 375km drive from Wadi ad-Dawasir to Bisha.
Despite his runaway lead Al-Attiyah was retaining the caution required for an event where victory can disappear as easily as a mirage in the Saudi Arabian desert.
“We’re getting there, little by little,” said the multi-faceted sportsman who took skeet shooting bronze at the 2012 London Olympics.
“It’s not over yet, there are still two days to go and even a podium spot will be hard to get.”
Peterhansel, known as ‘Mr Dakar’, won last year, three decades after his first victory on two wheels in 1991.
The only competitor to win the famed rally in Africa, South America and Asia, Peterhansel was thrilled to land a stage in his Audi hybrid.
“I’m not necessarily a stage hunter, but each Audi driver has now won a stage, and that’s fantastic,” the Frenchman said.
“When Carlos (Sainz) became the first driver to win a Dakar stage in an electric car, it was a milestone, now we confirmed that performance.”
With Sainz taking second there was double reason for Audi to celebrate.
“This is good for morale, not least because it comes after a complicated start to the rally,” said Peterhansel.
“We need to win in 2023. Failure is not an option.”
In the bike category France’s Adrien Van Beveren moved to the top of the rankings after a day marked by the premature end of Kevin Benavides’ title defense.
Argentina’s 2021 champion came unstuck 133km into the stage when his KTM suffered a terminal breakdown. Benavides had started the day in fifth, 10min22sec adrift.
Another KTM rider, Matthias Walkner, also had a difficult day, losing the overall lead after going off course with a navigational error to finish quarter of an hour behind Australian stage winner Toby Price.
Van Beveren, on a Yamaha, gave his chances of succeeding Benavides a massive boost by finishing fourth, at three and a half minutes, to reclaim the bike rankings’ summit after briefly holding sway at the weekend.
With only two days to go he is almost six minutes clear of Briton’s 2017 champion Sam Sunderland, his brother-in-law.
Sunderland reflected: “All in all, I’m happy, I prepared well this year and I think it shows. I’ve led the race for seven days. Now we just need to go flat out again tomorrow.”
Thursday’s 11th stage is a 346km special and the last day in the dunes ahead of the closing short drive to the finish in Jeddah on Friday.


Celtics beat Heat to move within a win of NBA Finals

Celtics beat Heat to move within a win of NBA Finals
Updated 9 sec ago

Celtics beat Heat to move within a win of NBA Finals

Celtics beat Heat to move within a win of NBA Finals
  • The Celtics improved to 6-2 on the road in this year’s playoffs

MIAMI: Jaylen Brown scored 25 points and Jayson Tatum added 22 as the Boston Celtics moved to the brink of the NBA Finals on Wednesday by defeating Miami 93-80.

Tatum also contributed game-highs of 12 rebounds and nine assists as the visiting Celtics took a 3-2 edge in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals series, which continues in Boston on Friday.

“We can’t think it’s over with,” Tatum said. “We have to go home like we’re down 3-2, with that sense of urgency. Not being satisfied. We’ve got things to clean up, we’ve got to be playing better. The job is not done yet.

“It’s far from over.”

The Celtics, who rallied from a 3-2 deficit to eliminate defending champion Milwaukee in the second round, are one victory from reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010, when they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers.

They have not captured the NBA crown since 2008, when they beat the Lakers.

“This is a great opportunity,” Brown said. “We have an opportunity to do something special.”

The Celtics improved to 6-2 on the road in this year’s playoffs.

A physical, defensive-minded contest was decided late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, when the Celtics went on a 24-2 run, Brown scoring 13 in the spurt and Tatum adding seven.

“We just got it going offensively,” Brown said. “We stopped turning the ball over. We cleaned it up, made more shots and got settled in.”

The Celtics dominated the third quarter, outscoring Miami 32-16 and closing the period with a 10-0 run for the largest lead to that point at 69-58 entering the fourth quarter.

For the game, Brown hit 10-of-19 from the floor, 5-of-9 from 3-point range.

“The game opened up in the second half,” Brown said. “My team needed me to come out and respond.”

Miami went 4-for-22 shooting from the floor in the third quarter.

“The consecutive missed open shots started to affect us on the other end,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

“As poorly as we played offensively, we were able to compete defensively and keep them to under 100.”

Boston then opened the fourth quarter with a 14-2 run to seize command at 83-60 and the Celtics held off Miami from there, an emphatic slam dunk by Brown serving notice the visitors would not be letting the Heat make the game dramatic over the final minutes.

“We played great defense in the first half. We played great defense in the second half,” Brown said. “Once we started shooting the ball straight I knew we’d have a good half.”

Bam Adebayo led Miami with 18 points and also added 10 rebounds. But the Heat shot only 30-of-94 from the floor and 7-of-45 from 3-point range.

“We wear teams out defensively and make it hard on them mentally and physically,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “If we do that we’re in good shape.”

The Heat’s starting backcourt, Max Strus and Kyle Lowry, were a combined 0-of-15 from the floor, 0-for-12 from 3-point range.

“I’ve got to play better,” Lowry said. “Tonight I played terrible. When I get on the court I have to be better.”

Al Horford added 16 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks for the Celtics. The 35-year-old Dominican center seeks his first NBA crown.

“Al is old reliable,” Brown said. “He gives us whatever we need.”

Boston’s Marcus Smart played despite a right ankle sprain and teammate Robert Williams was on the court despite a left knee injury.

Smart had five points, five rebounds and four assists plus stalwart defensive moves while Williams contributed six points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots.

“Rob is a very big part of what we do,” Horford said. “I’m impressed at his poise. He’s huge for us.”


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.