Flying Frenchman Cyril Despres rode into Lima in triumph on Sunday to seal his fourth career Dakar title and to present KTM with its 11th consecutive win at this gruelling test of motorcycling strength and endurance.
His Spanish team-mate Marc Coma finished second overall in what was one of the most epic two-way battles in the rally’s history.
New Zealand KTM rider Chris Birch managed to work his way back to finish a remarkable 27th overall at his first attempt at the rally, despite suffering a horrendous crash on day four that saw him down in 149th position overall.
KTM has now won the motorcycle division of the Dakar rally every year since 2001, with the exception of 2008 when it was cancelled because of security threats.
The race was a personal triumph for French-born Despres who first won in 2005 and repeated the victory in 2007, 2010 and again in 2012. His KTM factory teammate Marc Coma, who won the rally in 2006, 2009 and 2011 finished second after one of the Dakar’s most historic and closely fought battles. Both riders set the scene for a two-way competition right from the first stage and remained minutes apart until the penultimate stage on Saturday. Coma won five stages in the 2012 edition and Despres four but it was the turn of the Frenchman to ride in triumph into Lima.
“Today we won and it’s simply fantastic,” said Despres. “This is without a shadow of a doubt the toughest Dakar I’ve ever raced in. It was difficult physically, but even more psychologically. Challenging yourself every morning and fighting on the course takes its toll on your mind.
“It’s not like a 42-kilometre marathon; here, you have to earn your place every morning. All victories are beautiful, but this one is special because it came down to the wire and was decided at the last minute. This was an unimaginable scenario, with the leaders separated by mere seconds. I’ve done 90 or 85 rallies throughout my life, and this one was the one where I had to fight the hardest. Today will leave its mark on me.”
The final stage from Pisco to Lima was largely ceremonial with a 254 km liaison section along the Pacific coastline of southern Peru and a brief 30-km timed special test, a final encounter with the coastal dunes in the middle of the liaison section. Riders started in reverse order for the final stage that completed this marathon, almost 9000km ride from Mar del Plata in Argentina to Lima. Along the way they encountered vastly different terrain ranging from the Argentinean pampas to the high Andes, the daunting Atacama Desert of Chile and finally the southern coastal plains and rios of Peru. It was the first time that the rally had included Peru and the first time it represented a dash from the Atlantic coastline to the Pacific
The last timed special went to Pal Anders Ullevalseter of Norway (KTM) who finished ahead of Coma in second place. Despres, who said after the penultimate stage that the effort to stay ahead of Coma had cost a huge amount of physical and mental energy coasted home in tenth place.
Only minutes had separated the two KTM leaders going into the penultimate stage and the competition was fierce. Since the beginning of the rally both riders had never let up in speed and determination. But in the heat of the battle on Friday, Coma made a huge jump on the bike and when he landed he knew he had gearbox problems. He nursed the bike back to the bivouac but also made a navigational error in the process and this was enough to give his rival the lead he needed.
A new Dakar rule in 2012 penalises riders 15 minutes for the first change of engines and 45 minutes for the second. As the factory team had decided to change out both engines in the lead riders bikes one stage into the second half of the rally, this meant that when Coma’s engine was changed a second time he was given another 45 minutes penalty, effectively handing the title to his team-mate.
Results Stage 14
1. Pal Anders Ullevalseter, Norway, KTM 22 minutes 26
2. Marc Coma, Spain, KTM 23:34
3. Stefan Svitko, Slovakia, KTM 24:09
4. Gerard Farres Guell, Spain, KTM 24:27
5. Alessandro Botturi, Italy, KTM 24:37
Overall Results after final Stage 14
1. Cyril Despres, France, KTM, 43 hours 28 minutes and 11 seconds
2. Marc Coma, Spain, KTM at 53:20
3. Helder Rodrigues, Portugal, Yamaha at 1:11:17
4. Jordi Viladoms, Spain, KTM at 1:40:56
5. Stefan Svitko, Slovakia, KTM 1:47:28