LA PAZ,AFP: Swamped by torrential rain and sinking in a quagmire of cloying mud, the Dakar Rally cancelled its sixth stage on Saturday, leaving competitors puzzled over what awaits them in the second week of the gruelling race.
More than 12 hours of rain fell on Friday night leaving most of the planned run from Oruro to La Paz impassable and giving the racers an unscheduled lay-up ahead of Sunday's only rest day in the Bolivian capital.
Organisers estimated there was around 20cm of mud in some places, leaving many to wrap plastic bags around their shoes to negotiate the soggy terrain.
The 39th running of the Dakar saw sweltering temperatures of around 40 degrees in the first week in Argentina and Paraguay.
But that all changed Friday when a section of the run from Tupiza to Oruro was cancelled due to the deteriorating weather conditions.
"In Bolivia two years ago, it rained on us; last year, we were under bright sunshine and now it's the rain again," said defending champion Stephane Peterhansel who is in the overall lead and bidding for a 13th title.
"It wasn't bad for the first six days. I have no idea what will happen next because it has already turned to a catastrophe."
Peterhansel has a 1min 09sec lead over Peugeot team-mate and nine-time rally champion Sebastien Loeb in the auto standings.
In the race for the motorcycling title, Englishman Sam Sunderland of KTM has a 7min 07sec advantage over Portuguese Paulo Gonçalves.