Chilecito, Argentina - The ninth stage of the Dakar Rally was canceled on Wednesday after a section of the planned route was hit by a landslide in northern Argentina.
Organisers said the route from Salta to Tuesday's overnight bivouac at Chilecito was blocked 40km north of Jujuy after heavy rain and thunderstorms caused a landslide that hit the village of Volcan and caused considerable damage, leaving the road covered in mud and rock.
"As the road is cut off," they said, "most of the vehicles, competitors, assistance and logistics from the Dakar caravan were diverted on an alternative route through San Antonio de los Cobres, extending the distance."
France's nine-times world really champion Sebastien Loeb leads the overall standings, 1m38s ahead of compatriot and defending champion Stephane Peterhansel.
Their countryman and fellow Peugeot driver Cyril Despres is third, 17m17s off the pace, with Nani Roma in the South African-built Overdrive Toyota Hilux fourth.
Despite a string of problems, Stellenbosch hero Giniel de Villiers in the surviving Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux is holding on to sixth position in the overall standings, 1h21m44s behind the leader and 29m03 adrift of fifth-placed Mini driver Mirko Hirvonen.
However, the Toyotas are aiming to take the fight to the Peugeots on the remaining stages of the Dakar as the route returns to more sensible altitudes.
British KTM rider Sam Sunder heads the overall standings with a lead of almost 21 minutes over Chilean Pablo Quintanilla's Husqvarna but, although the Austrian bikemaker is headed for its 20 consecutive Dakar Rally win, KTM has failed to dominate the 39th running of the world's toughest motorsport contest as it has done in previous years.
Behind Quintanilla in third overall is Adrian van Beveren on a Yamaha, followed by two KTMs (Matthias Walkner and Gerard Farres Guell) another Yamaha (Viscount Xavier de Soultrait) and Pierre Alexandre Renet on a Husqvarna.
The next six places are taken taken up by Honda riders, led by works rider Joan Barrera Bort, who would probably be leading were it not for a one-hour penalty for refuelling in a prohibited area.
The Dakar will begin in earnest again on Thursday with Stage 10, 751km from Chilecito to San Juan, including a 449km timed portion that starts off with a very technical section but later becomes more open. Nevertheless, competitors have been warned that navigation is tricky.
Xinhua, IOL Motoring