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Rider Meoni killed on Dakar Rally

LONDON, England -- Fabrizio Meoni, winner of the Dakar Rally in 2001 and 2002, died of a heart attack after a crash on Tuesday's 11th stage of the 2005 race, organizers said.

It was the second fatality on the race in 24 hours following the death in Alicante of Spanish motorcyclist Jose Manuel Perez, four days after crashing during the seventh stage.

Germany's Jutta Kleinschmidt, driving a Volkswagen, and Spain's Marc Coma, riding a KTM, went on to win the 11th stage in Mauritania.

Organizers later announced that the motorbike section of the 12th stage on Wednesday -- a grueling 819km run, with a 586km timed special, from Kiffa to Bamako, the capital of Mali -- had been cancelled out of respect for Meoni.

"To pay tribute to Fabrizio, the riders don't want to race tomorrow. It's a choice that I can understand and respect, even if it's not mine. They will be taken to Bamako by plane," said rally director Etienne Lavigne.

Meoni crashed at 10.15 GMT after 184 kilometers of the stage between Atar and Kiffa and had been in a group of five leaders at the 175km checkpoint.

"We sent a helicopter when he fell and they found his heart had stopped. Sadly, they were unable to revive him," said Lavigne.

The 47-year-old Meoni, who was taking part in his 13th and last Dakar Rally, held second place having lost his lead to Cyril Despres of France on the previous leg.

There have been 22 deaths since the rally started 27 years ago.

"It is with huge sadness that the rally was informed this morning of the death of Fabrizio Meoni, one of the greatest rally-raid champions ever, after a crash just after checkpoint 1," organizers said in a statement.

"The entire Dakar caravan wishes to express its sincere condolences to his family, his friends and his many admirers."

French rider David Fretigne was first on the scene and signaled for help for Meoni who leaves a wife and two children.

"We loved him deeply. He was someone who really made a mark on the Dakar. He was a great guy, a big comedian, a very good advocate. We are all terribly affected by this news," said Lavigne.

On the race front, Kleinschmidt finished the 400km special in five hours 29min 37sec, 1min 04sec and 2min 42sec ahead of the Mitsubishis of Frenchmen Luc Alphand and last year's winner Stephane Peterhansel respectively.

In the overall standings, Peterhansel retains a 19min 50sec lead over Alphand and 1hr 08min 03sec over Kleinschmidt.

In the motorbike race, Marc Coma came home in 5:58.59, more than one minute ahead of Despres and almost four minutes ahead of compatriot Isidre Esteve Pujol.

Despres holds the lead in the overall standings, 14min 50sec ahead of Coma and 22min 23sec ahead of Pujol.

The special was cut by 256km because of adverse weather conditions.

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