With only two stages left before the teams reach the Dakar endpoint, things are hotting up in the desert as many riders and drivers battle it out for top honours while others succumb to dune demons.

With only two stages left before the teams reach the Dakar endpoint, things are hotting up in the desert as many riders and drivers still battle it out for top honours while others succumb to dune demons.

Competitors immediately tackled the 547km Special (there was no initial liaison) along tracks leading into the enormous dunes. Known as the sea of sand stage, fast tracks brought them closer to the famous Taskast Cliff, which can only be scaled by an adjacent wall of sand. From the summit, it was a mere four kilometres to the endpoint in Tidjikja.

In the Bike race, Cyril Despres managed to clinch the stage 14 Special and gained over four minutes on overall leader, Joan Roma, in what was perhaps an attempt to catch up to the long-standing overall leader.

Roma's edge over Despres was nearly forty-six minutes after stage 13. However, getting lost in the sand and later falling cost the KTM driver 15 valuable minutes.

"It was a nice special," commented Despres. "It was long and hard. We were on wet sand with a lot of bends, going up and down. I carried on riding in front and leaving a track in the sand. It makes things easier for the others. Roma did well, he went full speed and caught us (Despres, Cox and Sainct)."

The Frenchman clocked the fastest time on the stage. He was followed by Cox in second and Roma in third while Richard Sainct and David Fretigne rounded out the top five.

"I was going for the win," a shocked Cox said after the stage. "I can't believe Despres beat me. I thought I had won. It was fantastic out there. A nice track, twisty and because of the rain, the sand was nice and wet. It was by far the best stage of the rally."

Roma increased his overall lead over Sainct, with Despres third followed by Cox.

In the Car category, Nissan's stage 13 podium flush was short-lived when early in stage 14, Ari Vatanen hit a tree and came off second best.

"Ten kilometres into the stage, we were driving too quickly," Vatanen explained. "Over a bump, the car lost balance and we were not able to avoid a tree. We uprooted the tree but we also broke the car. We carried on for another two kilometres, but then we ran out of oil. I am very disappointed, because we had really put in a lot of effort between Tidjikja and Nema.

The incident has ensured Vatanen's retirement from the race in stage 14, which was won by Luc Alphand.

Stage 13's winner, Colin McRae was second fastest, beating Stephane Peterhansel, Jean-Louis Schlesser and Hiroshi Masuoka.

Peterhansel increased his overall Car lead on Masuoka. Schlesser remained in third, more than two-and-a-half hours behind the Mitsubishi team's leader.

Today's stage 15 sees the end of the African desert stages before surviving teams move south towards the Senegalese border and on to Dakar.

And this stage promises to be as eventful as ever. After a measly two-kilometre liaison, teams will need to negotiate the 579 km special and the final 71 km liaison to Nouakchott, in Mauritania. The special includes navigational challenges and dunes, as well as an immense 200 km section of the infamous camel grass.

Original article from Car