Manufacturer mulls not returning; de Villiers wins stage

Updated: January 12, 2005, 4:51 PM ET

DAKAR, Senegal -- Austrian motorcycle manufacturer KTM is considering its future in the Dakar rally after the death of Italian rider Fabrizio Meoni on Tuesday.

Race organizers canceled Wednesday's 12th motorcycling stage after Meoni's death, with the competitors flying straight to Bamako for the next stage.

In the overall race, South African Giniel de Villiers won the 12th stage Wednesday and overall leader Stephane Peterhansel finished second to maintain his challenge with four stages remaining.

De Villiers in a Nissan finished in Mali's capital Bamako three minutes and one second in front of Peterhansel after the 819-kilometer stage from Kiffa in Mauritania.

Fellow Frenchman and nearest overall rival Luc Alphand, also in a Mitsubishi, finished 6:27 behind the winner in third.

Peterhansel heads the overall standings by 23:16 over Alphand in second. Germany's Jutta Kleinschmidt, who had rear wheel problems Wednesday, is third. Josep Maria Servia had a lucky escape when he hit a tree but was unharmed.

KTM issued a statement in which it urged all its riders to withdraw from this year's race, although it said it was up to individuals to decide whether to continue.

Meoni, twice a former Dakar winner, died from a heart attack after a crash during Stage 11. His death came a day after Spanish KTM rider Jose Manuel Perez, who crashed during a stage last week, died from his injuries in hospital.

In September, French KTM rider Richard Sainct, a three-time winner of the Dakar rally, died after a crash in the Pharaohs Rally.

"Since KTM has lost two of its best rally riders, Fabrizio Meoni and Richard Sainct, in fatal accidents within a period of only a few months, the manufacturer will be contemplating its future support for the rally sport," KTM said.

KTM is the dominant bike manufacturer in the race, and nine of the top 10 finishers in Tuesday's stage were on KTM machines.

KTM sporting director Heinz Kinigadner told the Austrian APA news agency on Wednesday: "I am personally of the opinion that all KTM riders should return home.

"It's tragic, and it hurts. Before the start of the Dakar, I asked [Meoni] whether he would like to manage the KTM teams in the future.

"Pulling out of the rally isn't just a question of sympathy but also one of safety because no one in the team can just ignore two such tragic accidents. The Dakar is not a walk in the park. In my opinion it makes no sense to continue, but that is just my personal opinion."

Meoni, 47, had said before the race that it would be his last Dakar.

KTM's French rider Cyril Despres, who leads the motorcycle standings, is to display a sticker on his windshield with Meoni's name and No. 4 on it as a tribute to the Italian, who was second in the race standings before Tuesday's accident.