Masuoka wins third stage in a row

ATAR (Mauritania): Japans's two-time defending champion Hiroshi Masuoka had to contend with a gun-toting Mauritanian soldier on Wednesday before winning the seventh stage of the Dakar Rally to stretch his overall lead in the race. 

Masuoka completed the marathon 701km stage between Tan-Tan in Morocco and Atar in Mauritania in a time of 5'58:35, more than five minutes ahead of French driver Stephane Peterhansel and almost 21 minutes clear of two-time winner Jean-Louis Schlesser. 

Just after the rally crossed into Mauritania, competitors were held up by Mauritanian soldiers who asked for money to allow them to pass through the country. 

“A soldier pointed a gun at me,” said Masuoka. 

“He said 'stop and give me some money'. But I didn't give him anything and I took back my passport. 

“It's the first time it's happened to me and I hope it will be the last.” 

The rally's sporting director Patrick Zaniroli said: “It's not a customs problem, it's a local power struggle that is tarnishing the image of Mauritania.” 

Masuoka now has an 11:42 advantage over his Mitsubishi teammate Peterhansel in the overall standings. 

“I think the race is now just between me and Stephane,” Masuoka said. 

Britain's Colin McRae of Nissan 41:29 behind the leader in third place. – AFP  

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