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Dakar: Ales Loprais strikes a blow for MAN; Nikolaev falls out of overall truck lead

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With the motorcycle and quad racers taking a rest day, Saturday marked the beginning of a two-day “marathon” stage for the car and truck categories.

But while the car racers went uphill into Bolivia, the truckers embarked on a separate, dune-filled 335-kilometer stage in Chile.

Leading up to Saturday, KAMAZ had scored wins in the last five consecutive stages after Iveco’s Hans Stacey won the opener.

But KAMAZ couldn’t run the streak to six thanks to the efforts of MAN’s Ales Loprais (pictured). The Czech pilot took a five-minute, 39-second victory in Stage 7 over Iveco’s Gerard de Rooy.

However, perhaps an even bigger story on Saturday is the end of KAMAZ driver Eduard Nikolaev’s reign atop the overall truck standings.

Nikolaev had won back-to-back-to-back stages, but on Saturday, he lost more than an hour along the way.

With the stumble, Nikolaev is now fourth on the big board at almost 45 minutes behind new leader Ayrat Mardeev (fifth on Saturday).

Mardeev’s overall lead currently sits at more than 22 minutes over defending Dakar truck champ Andrey Karginov, while Dmitry Sotnikov has leaped slightly ahead of Nikolaev for the third spot.

KAMAZ still has a lock on the front four positions overall, while Loprais leads the MAN camp in fifth at 1 hour, 11 minutes back.

NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues with Stage 7 highlights on Sunday morning at 6 a.m. ET.