Sam Sunderland was the major casualty of stage three at the Merzouga Rally when the KTM rider crashed out of the race with a broken leg.

Rally leader and stage one winner, the UAE based British rider crashed on a riverbed 112 kilometres into the stage breaking his right femur and left collarbone.

Teammates Antoine Meo and Matthias Walkner were first to arrive at the scene of the accident and stayed with Sunderland until he was transported to hospital by helicopter.

The injury comes as a major blow to Sunderland ahead of the 2016 Dakar Rally starting in just 80 days time. Most femur fractures take four to six months to fully heal.

Winner of last week’s Rally of Morocco, Sunderland was chasing his second rally victory in two weeks.

In Sunderland’s absence, Meo secured the stage three win – his first ever in rally.

Walkner – who rode with Meo until the end of the stage to finish second later pulled out of the rally due to illness.

“I took the start not feeling 100%,” said Walkner. “The situation got worst after the finish of the special stage. I was not focused and I prefer not to take additional risks, so I headed to the paddock instead of the bivouac. It’s a pity, I was really enjoying the rally.”

Stage four will mark the second part of the marathon stage and the penultimate one of the rally.