France's Dakar Rally legend Stephane Peterhansel took a huge step towards winning the race for a 12th time after finishing second in Wednesday's 10th stage.
Peterhansel, six times a winner in the motorbike section and five times in the cars event, finished second in his Mini in the stage behind Qatar's former winner Nasser Al-Attiyah to move to just over two minutes adrift of overall leader Nani Roma.
For Al-Attiyah it was a second stage win in three days but the 46-year-old Peterhansel celebrated eating further into Roma's lead.
He trailed the Spaniard by 40 minutes after the fifth stage but made significant moves on Tuesday and then Wednesday and, with just three stages remaining, appears to have the momentum.
"This is the moment the race really starts," he said afterwards.
Al-Attiyah for his part said he had not given up hope of taking the race for the second time, having won it in 2011.
"We've only got one option left: going on the attack. We've still got three days to go and we're rather happy.
"At any rate, the race still has challenges in store for me, it's not over yet."
Earlier, Spanish rally great Carlos Sainz abandoned the race after crashing and injuring himself.
The 51-year-old two-time world rally champion and winner of the Dakar in 2010 was taken to the rally medical centre, according to event organisers.
His vehicle, an SMG buggy, was badly damaged.
"He was slightly injured and evacuated to the medical centre at the Antofagasta bivouac (where the stage finished)," said the organisers.
Sainz, nicknamed the 'Matador' for his aggressive style of driving, was way off the pace even before the stage, trailing compatriot Roma by 3hrs 28mins.
In the motorcycle section, Spanish rider Joan Barreda won his third stage of this year's edition but remains a long shot to win the Rally itself.
The 30-year-old Honda rider, who finished second in the two previous stages, remains second in the overall standings almost 45 minutes behind his compatriot Marc Coma, who was fifth on the day.
Barreda, winner of four stages last year, finished in front of Portuguese veteran Helder Rodrigues while five-time Dakar winner Cyril Despres of France was third.
Barreda said whilst he trailed Coma by a sizeable margin he still had hopes he could pull off a remarkable victory in the overall standings.
"We'll see, we're getting closer. Nothing is lost yet. Marc [Coma] has a sizeable lead, but anything can happen," he said.
Despres' chances of a sixth win evaporated when he had engine trouble in the fourth stage and he lies sixth overall, almost two and a half hours in arrears.