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France's Stephane Peterhansel was on the brink of a 10th Dakar Rally title on Saturday after clinching the 13th and penultimate stage, which gave him an overall lead of close to 43 minutes.
Cyril Despres looks virtually certain to make it a French double celebration in Sunday's finale in Lima after he was virtually handed the motorcycling title when closest rival Marc Coma got lost in sand dunes.
Peterhansel, driving a Mini, finished Saturday's 275km timed stage from Nasca ahead of South Africa's Ginel De Villiers in a Toyota.
The three-time car winner and six-time motorcycle champion has an overall lead of close to 43 minutes over Mini team-mate Nani Roma of Spain.
He timed 3hr 09min 47sec with De Villiers eight minutes back. Roma was seventh on Saturday, 23 minutes behind the French driver.
Controversial American Robby Gordon, who is driving under the threat of a disqualification after his Hummer was deemed to have breached technical regulations, was eighth on Saturday.
"It was not a stage we were trying to win. First and foremost, we wanted to avoid falling into traps, especially after getting stuck in the sand yesterday," said Peterhansel.
"It was the toughest stage of the entire Dakar with regard to the dunes. We made a tactical choice to start with lower-than-normal tyre pressure, so we had to be very careful at certain points, but we did well on the dunes.
"There is still a 30-kilometre special to go and we could have a technical problem. I am still holding my breath this evening. I will breathe again once I am on the podium."
Portugal's Helder Rodrigues, riding a Yamaha, won the penultimate stage of the motorcycle race ahead of Despres.
Coma's navigational error in the dunes meant he finished 13min 25sec behind Rodrigues and 12min 38sec behind three-time champion Despres.
Rodrigues reached the finish line in 3hr 21min 16sec, a winning margin of 47sec over Despres on a KTM.
Barring an accident, Despres will be assured of the 2012 title on Sunday when he starts the final stage in Lima with a lead of more than 11 minutes over Coma, who had been the overnight leader on Saturday, 95sec ahead of the Frenchman.
"I started very fast, as fast as I could, because I knew it would be difficult to stay in the lead of the rally," said Coma, who lost his way at the 207km mark.
"At 25km into the stage I had a mechanical problem that forced me to slow down. It was a gearbox problem and I feared I wouldn't be able to continue. So I am happy to be here, in second position, which is quite good.
"I fought throughout the entire rally and gave it everything I had got at all times. That is the way it is. I am disappointed because I was not able to fight until the end."
Despres, the 2005, 2007 and 2010 winner, said he was sad to see his KTM team-mate lose his way.
"I am not the kind of person who derives pleasure from the problems of team-mates, and even less when it is Marc Coma," he said.
"At the refuelling station I saw I had clawed back five minutes from Marc. I then got lost a couple of times; it was never a big problem but I had to stay focused.
"Today's stage was psychologically very tough. I always wait until the last day to enjoy things. I have seen so many things happen at the Dakar, and even more today. I want to stay calm and enjoy things a bit more."
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