The seventh stage of the Dakar Rally was probably one of the most gruelling yet and left many of those not eliminated, disillusioned.

The seventh stage of the Dakar Rally was probably one of the most gruelling yet and left many of those not eliminated, disillusioned.

The 1055km stage between Tan-Tan in Morocco and Atar, Mauritania used to be completed over two days, but this year the organisers have converted it into a one-day epic stage.

The stage took participants across dune fields and the Oumaghawaba Erg, and the sandy conditions meant that drivers and riders had to remain focused.

As expected, there were many mechanical glitches and participants who became stuck in the dunes.

Overall bike leader, Isidre Esteve Pujol, fell after the first checkpoint. And even though the fall was quite dramatic he was able to continue and loss only ten minutes. He was halted again after about 650km with mechanical problems.

Fabrizio Meoni was the fastest early in the stage, looking to improve his overall position with Pujol's problems. But when his rear tyre went flat at the 580km mark he was eventually able to continue with some assistance from teammates.

Richard Sainct, 2003 Dakar Bike winner, took his first Special victory of the 2004 endurance rally saying he did not expect it to go as well as it did.

He was followed to the finish by Jean Brucy, Cyril Despres, South Africa’s Alfie Cox and Joan Roma.

Despres now has the overall lead just three minutes ahead of Roma. Sainct has moved into the third position with Alfie Cox in fourth.

In the Car competition the battle continued between Mitsubishi teammates, Hiroshi Masuoka and Stephane Peterhansel on the Special. Masuoka kept a slight edge to take the seventh stage ahead of Peterhansel, Jean-Louis Schlesser, Gregoire de Mevius and Colin McRae.

South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers dropped down to 18th position at the end of the special stage after holding second position early in the stage.

Nissan's Colin McRae in his Dakar debut managed to finish quite respectively after he got stuck in one of the sand dunes at 456km. Schlesser suffered a similar fate at the 624km mark.

Masuoka maintained the overall lead with almost 12 minutes over second placed Peterhansel. McRae holds third position overall in the Car challenge.

Stage eight is an official marathon stage between Atar and Tidjikja in Mauritania. It will start with a 34km liaison stage, the 335km special stage and another 389km liaison in what will be a very technical stage.

Original article from Car