Spanish rider has championship in his grasp but Casteu, Despres plan last gasp attack in UAE Desert Challenge

Dubai, UAE, 20th October 2005: Spain's Marc Coma will face a double French threat when he attempts to clinch the 2005 Cross Country Rallies World Championship in next month's UAE Desert Challenge.

Victory in Egypt's Pharaohs Rally last month gave Coma a powerful 13-point championship lead and the Spanish rider is the firm favourite to succeed Norway's Pål Anders Ullevålseter who clinched the world title in last year's Desert Challenge.

Coma, however, knows that a mechanical disaster or loss of concentration on his part could let in David Casteu or fellow-Frenchman Cyril Despres as the title race reaches its conclusion among the giant dunes and sabka plains of the UAE deserts.

Casteu, who finished third in Egypt, faced a predicament before booking a return trip to the Middle East as he is not receiving KTM factory support for the Desert Challenge and had to raise sponsorship to cover his expenses.

Despres, the 2003 world champion, had no such problem and will be going all out to score his fourth Desert Challenge victory in five years. After winning the bikes crown in the UAE in 2001, 2002 and 2003 he withdrew from the event last year following the tragic death of his team-mate, fellow- Frenchman Richard Sainct, in the Pharaohs' Rally.

He lost his championship lead to Coma by not competing in Egypt last month, but still has a mathematical chance of overhauling the Spaniard.

"Coma has the world title in his hands, but he won't be able to relax because one lapse in concentration could see it slip away," said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, chairman of the organising committee for the UAE Desert Challenge.

The Desert Challenge is sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, Nissan Middle East - with the Nissan Patrol the rally's official car - Dubai Waterfront, an 81 million square metre development by major developers Nakheel, Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing and Inmarsat, providers of satellite communications.

Coma, Casteu, and Despres are in an impressive line-up of 74 riders from 21 nations who will go into action in the Desert Challenge, which is launched by a Prologue in Dubai on 9th November and starts officially in Abu Dhabi the following morning. The event finishes at Dubai International Marine Club

While he has not defended his world title this year, Ullevålseter will be looking for another Desert Challenge podium finish next month, as will Poland's Marek Dabrowski who was runner-up to Spain's Isidre Esteve 12 months ago.

The 2004 event was a good one for three UAE-based riders, Tim Trenker who finished fifth, Steven Blackney who took sixth spot and Sean Linton who came home seventh, and they all go back into action next month aiming for top-ten places.

So does another UAE-based rider, Dave McBride, who was forced to withdraw half-way through the event last year with dehydration. Belfast-born McBride had previously strung together five top-ten Desert Challenge finishes, including a seventh on his first attempt in 1996 and a brilliant second behind Despres in 2001.

Already strongly fancied to score his third win in four years in the UAE at the wheel of his Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution, French star Stephane Peterhansel has become an even stronger favourite following the decision of the Volkswagen works team not to contest the event to concentrate on the Dakar Rally.

But even with World Cup winner Bruno Saby absent, Peterhansel knows the Desert Challenge is an event which cannot be taken for granted, as he found last year when

his chances of a third successive victory were destroyed by a broken rear differential on the first day.

<pre> 2005 Cross Country Rallies World Championship, leading positions after 5 of 6 rounds: 1. Marc Coma SPA KTM 72pts 2. David Casteau FRA 62pts 3. Cyril Despres FRA KTM 50pts 4. Isidre Esteve SPA KTM 47pts 5. Rodrigo Moreno CHL 40pts 6. Jose M.Pellicer SPA KTM 38pts

-Total Communications