| GEO Sports|
| Italian motorcyclist seriously injured in Dakar Rally|
| Updated at: 1632 PST, Friday, January 08, 2010|
LONDON: Pre-race favourites French driver Stephane Peterhansel and Spanish motorcyclist Marc Coma rebounded from disastrous stages on Wednesday to win the latest legs of the event on Thursday.
However, their relief for at least putting Wednesday's nightmare showing behind them was tempered by 29-year-old Italian motorcyclist Luca Manta's dreadful crash which left him fighting for his life with serious head injuries.
Peterhansel had all but conceded he was out of contention for the overall title after losing over two hours because of serious mechanical problems when he also lost the overall lead.
Peterhansel came home 47 seconds ahead of Spain's former two-time world rally champion Carlos Sainz, who had replaced the Frenchman in the overall lead.
Sainz - who leads a Volkswagen 1-2-3 in the overall placings - for his part was delighted not to have encountered the slightest problem.
Two-time motorcycling champion Coma - who had initially lost 37 minutes on Wednesday owing to mechanical problems before being penalised another 22 minutes for speeding at the beginning of the stage - moved up into fourth overall after his stage win.
Coma came in on his KTM motorbike at least 10 minutes clear of his rivals including France's overall leader Cyril Despres, who finished second.
Coma's pessimistic appraisal of his chances of winning were not shared by Despres.
The stage was marred by the serious injury suffered by Manta, ninth overall going into the stage and in his first Dakar Rally.
The 29-year-old KTM rider - whose ambition for the race was to finish in the top five and who rated the level of danger of the race a seven out of ten - crashed just 10 kilometres into the 418km special from Antofagasta and after receiving treatment had to be taken to local hospital by helicopter.
However after an initial diagnosis indicated he had head injuries he was due to be transferred to a neurological unit at a hospital in the capital Santiago.