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Dakar Rally Stage 12: Leads close in Cars and Trucks; just 2 stages remain

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Editor’s note: Check out expanded video highlights of Stage 12 Friday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

After playing offense through much of the first 11 stages (not including the washed-out Stage 9 on Monday), as contenders move closer to the conclusion of the 40th Dakar Rally, there’s a definite move to playing defense.

A perfect example of that is Spain’s Carlos Sainz in the Cars class. During Thursday’s Stage 12, Sainz was in a defensive mode to preserve his lead in the overall standings.

But while Sainz was playing defense, France’s Stephane Peterhansel could do nothing but be on the offensive, cutting nearly 16 minutes off Sainz’ overall lead.

While Sainz still leads by 45 minutes, anything can happen in the remaining two stages on Friday and Saturday. One thing is certain: Sainz has learned quite a few lessons from his previous five appearances in the Rally, never reaching it to the finish line.

The main thing is not only defense, but also patience, as he readily put on display Thursday.

In the final two stages, Sainz will once again have to play defense to maintain his overall lead, but his four closest challengers – Peterhansel, Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah (who won Thursday’s stage, his third of this year’s Rally), the Netherlands’ Bernhard ten Brinke and South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers – will be going all-out.

The winner of the last two Rallys, Peterhansel, however, has seemingly all but conceded the overall win in the class to Sainz.

“It’s finished now,” he said. “For sure, we will try to secure second place, so we controlled the gap with Nasser.

“I’m crossing my fingers for (second) but also for Carlos. After the big damage to the car that we got on the marathon stage (seven), we lost approximately one hour and forty-five minutes, so coming back into second place is OK.”

Also of note, Thursday’s stage was cancelled for motorcycles and quads due to weather conditions.

Here’s the Stage 12 results, as well as updated overall rankings:

  1. Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, Toyota, 5:49:57
  2. France’s Stephane Peterhansel, Peugeot, 5:52:00
  3. South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers, Toyota: 5:54:30
  4. Argentina’s Orlando Terranova, Mini, 5:55:53
  5. The Netherlands’ Bernhard ten Brinke, Toyota, 5:57:50

OVERALL 

  1. Spain’s Carlos Sainz
  2. France’s Stephane Peterhansel, 44:41 behind
  3. Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, 1:05:55 behind
  4. The Netherlands’ Bernhard ten Brinke, 1:17:21 behind
  5. South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers, 1:26:31 behind

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TRUCKS

Ton van Genugten won his second stage of this year’s Rally on Thursday, followed by the Czech Republic’s Martin Kolomy and Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev.

But the biggest news is how Argentina’s Federico Villagra closed to within one second of overall leader Nikolaev. It’s a guarantee the last two stages will be shootouts between the two competitors.

Here’s the Stage 12 results, as well as updated overall rankings:

  1. Netherland’s Ton van Genugten, Iveco, 7:02:36
  2. Czech Republic’s Martin Kolomy, Tatra, 7:06:47
  3. Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev, Kamaz, 7:08:57
  4. Argentina’s Federico Villagra, Iveco, 7:10:05
  5. Kazakhstan’s Artur Ardavichus, Iveco, 7:17:50

OVERALL 

  1. Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev
  2. Argentina’s Federico Villagra, 0:00:01
  3. Belarus’s Siarhei Vlazovich, 3:26:14 behind
  4. Russia’s Airat Mardeev, 5:20:15 behind
  5. Netherland’s Ton van Genugten, 5:23:40 behind

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BIKES

Weather prevented the bikes from taking to the course for Thursday’s Stage 12.

Here’s the overall standings as they were after Stage 11 and remain the same going into Friday’s Stage 13.

OVERALL 

  1. Austria’s Matthias Walkner
  2. Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, 32:00 behind
  3. Australia’s Toby Price, 39:17 behind
  4. Spain’s Gerard Farres, 49:17 behind
  5. France’s Antoine Meo, 59:05 behind

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QUADS

Weather prevented the Quads from taking to the course for Thursday’s Stage 12.

Here’s the overall standings as they were after Stage 11 and remain the same going into Friday’s Stage 13.

  1. Chile’s Ignacio Casale
  2. Argentina’s Nicolas Cavigliasso, 1:34:13 behind
  3. Argentina’s Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli, 2:09:15 behind
  4. France’s Alex Dutrie, 3:56:48 behind
  5. Brazil’s Marcelo Medeiros, 4:22:22 behind

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SxS UTV

Weather conditions also impacted the UTV class, with entries taking nearly 50 percent double the time it normally would under better weather and track conditions.

Here’s the Stage 12 results, as well as updated overall rankings:

  1. Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela, Can-Am, 9:27:12
  2. France’s Claude Fournier, Polaris, 9:38:54
  3. Spain’s Jose Pena Campos, Polaris, 9:45:27
  4. France’s Patricie Garrouste, Polaris, 9:46:06
  5. Italy’s Camelia Liparoti, Yamaha, 11:02:48

OVERALL 

  1. Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela
  2. France’s Patricie Garroueste, 1:03:27 behind
  3. Spain’s Jose Pena Campos, 9:04:40 behind
  4. France’s Claude Fournier, 9:08:34 behind
  5. Italy’s Camelia Liparoti, 25:39:34 behind

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FRIDAY’S SCHEDULE

Stage 13 takes place Friday, going from San Juan to Cordoba, Argentina

After Friday, just one stage remains in the 2018 Dakar Rally on Saturday, when champions in all five classes will be crowned.

MORE: Dakar Rally daily stages schedule, NBCSN broadcast schedule, list of all competitors.

MORE: Stage 11 wrapup

MORE: Stage 10 wrapup

MORE: Stage 9 cancelled due to weather, impassible course conditions

MORE: Stage 8 wrapup

MORE: Stage 7 wrapup

MORE: Stage 6 wrapup

MORE: Stage 5 wrapup

MORE: Stage 4 wrapup

MORE: Stage 3 wrapup

MORE: Stage 2 wrapup

MORE: Stage 1 wrapup

Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.