Posted: Fri January 10, 2014 3:28PM; Updated: Fri January 10, 2014 3:31PM

Motorcycle rider Eric Palante, two fans die at Dakar Rally

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Eric Palante
Eric Palante was riding in his 11th Dakar Rally when he died under mysterious circumstances.
Monica Paz/LatinContent/Getty Images

SALTA, Argentina (AP) -- Three deaths overshadowed Friday's sixth leg of the Dakar Rally, as the race claimed the life of Belgian motorcyclist Eric Palante and two spectators who were following the event.

Palante's body was found after he failed to finish Thursday's fifth stage.

Nani Roma of Spain kept the overall lead in cars despite finishing sixth in the stage, and fellow Spaniard Marc Coma stayed on top in bikes after taking second on the stage from Tucuman to Salta in northern Argentina.

Roma, driving a Mini, has a large lead of 30 minutes, 30 seconds over Orlando Terranova of Argentina, and 40:54 ahead of 11-time winner Stephane Peterhansel.

Coma leads fellow Spaniard Joan Barreda Bort by 42:17 and is an hour ahead of Alain Duclos of France.

Organizers said they went out looking for the 50-year-old Palante after he failed to finish the fifth stage, which most riders completed on Thursday, and found his body along the route.

The cause of death was being investigated, and officials offered few details.

This was Palante's 11th Dakar Rally, according to an event biography, which said he would have turned 51 on Jan. 21. It said his goal was to win the amateur trophy for motorbikes.

"He knew the race very well, and over the years his enthusiastic but serious approach had made him one of the pillars of the event," organizers said in a statement.

Organizers said they received no alert from Palante.

Police said two people following the race died on Thursday when their vehicle overturned in rough terrain in northern Argentina.

Police identified the pair on Friday as Agustin Ignacio Mina, 19, and Daniel Eduardo Ambrosio, 51. Officials said Mina was covering the rally for a motor racing magazine, and they identified Ambrosio as a fan of motor sports.

The Dakar, raced over rugged terrain in difficult-to-control areas, often produces fatalities. Last year, French motorcyclist Thomas Bourgin was killed in a collision with a Chilean police car. Two fans also died in a collision between a support vehicle and two taxis.

The Dakar began Sunday in Rosario, Argentina, and ends Jan. 18 in Valapariso, Chile. This is the sixth straight year it has been held in South America.

Saturday in a rest day.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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