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Giniel De Villiers wins Dakar Rally's 5th stage, marred by another death

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - A French motorcyclist who became the latest fatality in the Dakar Rally died of a pulmonary edema, an autopsy revealed on Wednesday.

The body of Pascal Terry, missing since Sunday's second stage, was found near his bike early Wednesday in dense bush between Abramo and Cuchillo Co, about 190 kilometres south of Santa Rosa.

Julio Acosta, the head of the Pampas regional police department of operations, told local news agency DyN that the abnormal level of fluid in 49-year-old Terry's lungs was brought on by a heart problem.

Terry, a first-time Dakar racer, had taken off his helmet and laid in the shade of a tree, race officials said in a statement. Next to his body, police found food and water.

"There are things that cannot be explained," said rally director Etienne Lavigne.

The forensic report said his body showed no signs of injury or dehydration, and he would have died between nightfall on Sunday and dawn on Monday.

Terry informed race organizers on Sunday that he had run out of fuel, then told them he was continuing after receiving some fuel from another rider. But satellite tracking eventually showed his bike stopped. His emergency signal was picked up by race officials in Paris but Argentine organizers weren't notified until Monday morning, when a search was launched. Rescuers had a difficult time because of the dense terrain.

The Dakar Rally has claimed the lives of numerous competitors, crew, media and fans since it began in 1979. Two motorcyclists died in the last rally, in 2007.

Meanwhile, Nasser Al Attiyah reclaimed the overall lead from Carlos Sainz in the fifth stage. The pair had shared the previous four stages but bowed to Giniel De Villiers of South Africa in the special between Neuquen and San Rafael over the Patagonian steppe.

De Villiers powered his Volkswagen through a swath of troublesome sand dunes to complete the 506-kilometre stage in five hours 47 minutes 43 seconds. He was 2:18 ahead of German teammate Dieter Depping. U.S. driver Robby Gordon was third in his Hummer, 4:12 back.

"This was undoubtedly the toughest stage so far," De Villiers said. "There was quite a bit of offroad and it was hard to find the right way."

Sainz began the stage with a 3:46 overall lead from Al Attiyah, but made a mistake which cost him his front hood. Sainz finished the stage ninth, but Al Attiyah was fourth in his BMW, and the Qatari grabbed the overall lead by almost 2 1/2 minutes on De Villiers. Sainz, Al Attiyah's Spanish rival in the Volkswagen, dropped back to third, 6:33 behind with the race about to reach the Andes foothills on Thursday.

Defending champion Stephane Peterhansel of France, lost his rear hood in a roll but finished fifth in the stage without a radiator, and was fourth overall, nearly 14 minutes off the pace. The Dakar's most successful driver with nine titles was contemplating whether to continue.

Car fires knocked out two world champions from France, Christian Lavieille and Yvan Muller.

Marc Coma of Spain continued to lead the motorbike class, but his ample lead over American Jonah Street was slashed from 43 minutes to 27 because of a flat tire.

Street won the stage in 6:41:06 after he had been trailing Chilean Francisco Lopez for most of the race. Street was nearly six minutes behind Lopez at the second checkpoint but powered through the final kilometres to finish 7:34 ahead of Lopez, who finished third. Dutchman Frans Verhoeven was second, 5:53 behind Street.

Thursday's sixth stage is 395 kilometres between San Rafael and Mendoza, the heart of Argentina's wine region, nestled at the base of the Andes. The rally finishes on Jan. 18 in Buenos Aires.

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