Coma captures bikes crown but loses world champion's mantle to Casteu

Dubai, UAE, 10th November, 2006: Former world champion downhill skier Luc Alphand drove smoothly to his first victory in the UAE Desert Challenge today (Friday) while Spain's Marc Coma clinched the bikes title and at the same time was replaced as world champion by French rider David Casteu.

It would have taken a last leg disaster to deny Alphand victory. In contrast, he had a trouble-free passage over the final two special stages to reach the finish at Dubai International Marine Club this afternoon with a 15 mins 58 secs advantage over Mitsubishi team-mate Stephane Peterhansel

"It's really good to win," said Alphand, as Mitsubishi also captured the team title in the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup. "We had a cool rally, never being stuck, and no punctures. My co-driver is really good, quite quiet and the opposite to me. If you're a competitor and you haven't been to the Desert Challenge yet you have to come. The UAE is a nice place and the rally is really well organised."

Peterhansel, winner of the event three times in the previous four years and twice earlier on a bike, was relatively pleased to take second best on this occasion after his first-day disaster when a crash in the dunes killed off his hopes of another victory.

Finishing third overall, five-times Desert Challenge winner Jean-Louis Schlesser was fastest on the day's 122-km Castrol Special Stage 5, and might have also won the final 163-km Hertz Special Stage 6 before suffering two punctures. That double setback let in two-times World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz for his third stage win in the event, and he just sneaked into the top ten, having plunged from the reckoning with a broken drive shaft on Tuesday.

Portugal's Carlos Sousa in another VW, Qatar's Middle East rally champion Nasser Al Attiyah and Germany's Jutta Kleinschmidt in a BMW completed the top six.

Once again Yahya Alhelei in a Liberty Team Chevrolet was the leading UAE finisher in ninth place, with team-mates Ahmad Bin Suqat and Obaid bin Hathboor taking 11th and 13th places respectively.

The host nation also celebrated victory in the battle of the quads, with Atif Al Zarouni taking the title for the second time in three years.

Completing the roll of honour, Rustam Minnikhanov, Prime Minister of the Russian Republic of Tatarstan, won the trucks title for the fourth time in five years.

Chief organiser Mohammed Ben Sulayem had been trying for years to lure good friend Sainz to the UAE, and he said at the finish: "It's has always been my aim to attract the best drivers and riders in the world. It was wonderful to see Carlos in action in the UAE, and this has been one of the strongest entries ever for a round of the World Cup."

Sainz clearly enjoyed his Desert Challenge debut. "It was very interesting, especially in the dunes," he said. "It was important to get experience here. The heat was worse than expected, and it's very different to rallying, but I'm very pleased I came."

Al Attiyah reported: "I had problems with the clutch today and lost ten minutes at the 5km mark. But the rally has been really good training and we feel very ready for Dakar."

Twelve months ago, Coma had entered the event holding a big lead over Casteu in the

FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship, and the Spaniard had a nerve jangling ride through the UAE deserts, knowing that any mishap could have handed the title to the Frenchman.

This times the roles were reversed, and it was Casteu who had to sweat through the final round which took the riders through the fog after they had left the Moreeb Hill bivouac for the last time in the early morning.

Coma said at the finish: "I feel fantastic, really, really happy. I would like to thank the organisers for such a great rally. Today was good, apart from the first stage because it is so difficult riding through the fog."

Mightily relieved to reach the end of the 163-km Hertz Special Stage 6, Casteu admitted:

"The last 50kms was really difficult because I just wanted to get to the finish line, and it wasn't coming closer quickly enough. I am really, really happy, and when I started today the only thing on my mind was to finish the event."

-credit: total