French world champion sets his sights on fourth successive bikes win as huge international force heads for UAE

Dubai, UAE, 22 September 2004: Brilliant French rider Cyril Despres has set his sights on a remarkable fourth successive victory in next month's UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge, but he faces a stern test in the penultimate round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies.

The reigning world champion will be under pressure from all his main rivals, including Norway's Pal-Anders Ullevalseter, who leads the race for this year's World Cup title after winning the Rallye D'Orient, the previous round in Turkey last month.

They are among seven of the top ten finishers from last year's Desert Challenge who will be battling for supremacy in the spectacular 2,020km event from October 11-15. Despres, who clinched his World Cup triumph last year by completing a hat-trick of consecutive Desert Challenge wins, lies third in the current series with three rounds remaining in Egypt next week, the UAE and finally Argentina.

Among his other leading challengers are Polish riders Marek Dabrowski and Jacek Czachor, who finished just ahead of Ullevalseter in third and fourth positions 12 months ago. Czachor heads Despres in second place in the current World Cup standings. Italian Oscar Polli, Britain's Sean Linton and Zimbabwe's Joe De Bruyn will also be aiming to build on their top-ten UAE finishes last year in what promises to be the most competitive tussle since the Desert Challenge first welcomed the bikes stars in 1995.

"The route is hard on the cars and the drivers, and it's an even more demanding test for a man on a bike, so to win it three times in a row is an incredible achievement," said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, chairman of the organising committee for the UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge.

"Cyril Despres is tremendously tough and talented, but I'm sure he knows that he is in for a big battle this time, and it will be very interesting to see what happens."

The Desert Challenge is held under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and H.H. General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Minister of Defence of the UAE.

If he succeeds next month, Despres could still find himself behind two other men in the Desert Challenge honours list. Jean-Louis Schlesser drove his buggy to victory in the UAE in 1994 and 1995, and then three years in a row from 1999, while Stephane Peterhansel, who captured the bikes title in 1996 and 1997, goes for his third consecutive cars win next month.

Looking back on last year, Despres said: "It was fantastic for me to win the World Championship. It was the best Desert Challenge ever for me. A great route and quality competition who pushed me all the way."

With 73 riders heading for the UAE next month in a field of 127 competitors overall from 36 countries, the 14th edition of the Desert Challenge will be arguably the most international sporting event ever staged in the Middle East.

The 2004 Desert Challenge is co-sponsored by Nissan, official vehicle supplier to the organisers, Nakheel, the Government of Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Emarat, ADNOC, Oasis Water, Inmarsat, providers of satellite communications, Konica copiers, website designers ANLONITS, as well as Dubai International Marine Club and Le Meridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina, the co-hosts for the event and the official Rally HQ.