Dakar: Gauloises Racing stage 16 report

On an edition deeply touched by the tragic deaths of Fabrizio Meoni and Jose Manuel Perez, the Telefonica Dakar 2005 crowned Frenchman Cyril Despres (KTM) in the bike race. On four wheels, Stephane Peterhansel (MIT) conquered his second...

On an edition deeply touched by the tragic deaths of Fabrizio Meoni and Jose Manuel Perez, the Telefonica Dakar 2005 crowned Frenchman Cyril Despres (KTM) in the bike race. On four wheels, Stephane Peterhansel (MIT) conquered his second consecutive victory while the truck race win remained in the hands of the Kamaz team but it was Firdaus Kabirov's turn to clinch the overall win.

It was a question of honour. At the start of the race in Barcelona, the KTM-Gauloises team promised they would place one of their 'blue bikes' on the highest step of the podium of the 27th Dakar, in memory of Richard Sainct three-time winner of the event who had tragically died three months earlier during the 'Pharaoh rally' in Egypt. On the Dakar, Cyril Despres and his mates were once again hit by the terrible death of Fabrizio Meoni during stage 11. Devastated, the KTM official riders had a new reason to carry on, despite the pain, "because that's what he would have wanted!"

In memory of Fabrizio and Richard, Despres won his first Dakar after having climbed on both the second (in 2003) and third steps (in 2004) of the podium. The Frenchman had started building his victory well before the tragedy that rocked the whole rally. On the eve of the crash, during the Atar-Atar special, Despres took command of the rally thanks to a 10' lead on Meoni who was to finish his last stage. Before that, the 31-year old rider based his race on regularity, making it nice and easily in the Top 5 of every single stage before entering Mauritania, his favourite playground. Once in the overall lead, Despres after his Atar masterpiece never let go of his advantage and controlled is closest rivals from then on. The only danger came from Marc Coma who had closed the gap on the leader to 3'16 because of a time penalty given to Despres for speeding. Not a problem for the talented Frenchman who left his main rival way behind on the penultimate stage to Dakar, clinching at the same time his second special success.

This 27th edition was a good opportunity to discover the talents that will certainly dominate the upcoming years alongside Cyril Despres. David Fretigne, 5th overall and the only biker to have won three specials this year (added to two second spots), will certainly be among those that will be the main actors of the Dakar in the upcoming years. Slightly older but just as talented, Australian Andy Caldecott (2 stage wins), as well as Spaniards Coma and Esteve, who are part of the 'Nani Roma generation' will certainly also be of those fighting for glory in the deserts of Africa. The 'First time' standings crowned two very impressive youngsters. Indeed, Americans Chris Blais (9th overall, and twice 3rd on specials) and Kellon Walch (22nd and winner of the last stage around the Lac Rose), from the KTM -- Redbull team easily captured the first two spots, while David Casteu (13th overall) clinched the 'Marathon' class win. For her first experience on the Dakar, 21-year-old Ludivine Puy, was the better placed of the two remaining bikers in the women's standings.

Maybe his prestigious past as a biker made Stephane Peterhansel use the exact same strategy then Cyril Despres'. The only difference was that the titleholder started his real road to victory just before Mauritania. Chapter one happened on the stage between Smara-Zouerat, where he captured the overall command after grabbing the stage. Chapter two was for the following day on the now legendary Zouerat to Tichit stage where with his team mate Luc Alphand, 'Peter' hit even harder leaving his closest contender, Jutta Kleinschmidt, 40' adrift before the rest day.

If Mitsubishi made the difference there, the battle among the Japanese brand carried on until they left Mauritania with Luc Alphand challenging his compatriot and proving that he should be one to watch for a possible future victory. To ensure a 'Mitsu' win, they then took it steadily until the finish line, especially after the mechanical problems that shook Masuoka (who quit with a broken engine) and Mayer (who quit with electric problems).

Black Africa was therefore a good occasion for the others to fight it out for special wins, exactly like they had done during the European and Moroccan stages. American Robby Gordon, for his first Dakar, and Scotsman Colin McRae had shared the wins on the fast specials before Mauritania. The Volkswagen-Nissan duel had therefore stopped on a 2-2 draw! It then went Nissan's way thanks to Giniel De Villiers (twice) and Ari Vatanen's impressive stage from Kayes to Tambacounda. With Jutta Kleinschmidt's win in Kiffa and Bruno Saby's final success on the shores of the Lac Rose, the score ended 5-4... to Nissan, with Jutta Kleinschmidt however managing to keep her very important third spot on the podium.

In the T1 class that saw favourites Isabelle Patissier and Jean-Pierre Strugo quit the race early, Japan's Asaga (18th overall) topped the standings with a diesel vehicle, beating Pascal Thomasse in his normal fuel car (39th overall). The 'first time' standing was won by China's Yang Zhou, 10th overall.

Finally, the truck race rapidly lost its four-time Dakar winner Vladimir Tchaguine who was leading the race when he ran out of fuel during the Zouerat-Tichit stage forcing him to forget about his title ambitions. One of his closest rivals witnessed the same problem but still proved that he was a promising prospect, winning three consecutive stages. The rally however remained in the hands of the Kamaz team and it was Firdaus Kabirov's turn to conquer top spot. The Russian team continues its victorious run, equalling Tatra's record of 6 wins.

BIKES

Cyril Despres (Gauloises KTM) 1st overall

I didn't know whether I would feel happy or sad on arriving at the final finish line here at Lac Rose. In fact I feel both. Immense sadness not to be here with my team mates Richard (Sainct) and Fabrizio (Meoni), and at the same time joy to have fulfilled the promise that Fabrizio and I made to put a blue bike on the podium for Richard. These last few days have been tough both physically and psychologically. It was a difficult decision to make to carry on, but finally I glad we decided to go all the way to Lac Rose.

Alfie Cox (Gauloises KTM) 3rd overall (at 11'29)

The Dakar is never easy and this was one particularly difficultly mentally. It has been extremely hard to cope with Fabrizio's death at the same time as racing -- it has been a real shaker for me -- I'm not a single man and it has made me think a lot about the risks we take and what that means for my wife and son. Ironically, purely from a racing point of view, I have had a pretty easy run. Apart from the crash I had on the beach in Barcelona nothing has really gone wrong for me, I didn't have to carry any injuries and had no big crashes.

Jean Brucy (Gauloises KTM) 10th overall (at 3.11'39)

I had a lot of emotion when I left the parc ferme this morning -- I really missed Richard (Sainct) and Fabrizio (Meoni). It was difficult to get it into my head that I was no longer assisting Richard. I have been happy however to assume that role for Cyril (Despres) on this Dakar and would like to be able to carry on doing so for a few years to come. Right now though I feel that I have come to the end of something and don't think I will be able to continue.

David Fretigne (Gauloises Yamaha) 5th overall (at 33'36)

Last year we came to have a look and test the reliability of our bike. This year we came to race and, despite the difference in cubic capacity, showed that we are competitive. We learnt an awful lot this year, and still have a lot more to learn, but we have an excellent team and are going in the right direction.

Eric Verhoef (Gauloises KTM) 23rd (10.10'53)

I'm getting younger every Dakar and feel fine here on the podium, even if it has been a hard race. I have digested the incident when I ran out of petrol on the Zouerat -- Tichit stage and this morning went to apologise to Patrick Zaniroli. They made a mistake but this isn't an easy thing to organise and they are only human. For 10 years I have been coming here thinking I could get among the top riders, but now I realise that I haven't got what it takes to make the final stage. I would like to come back but I don't think it will be on a bike.

Ivo Kasten (Gauloises KTM) 38th (16.03'54)

This is my 4th time here on the finish line at Dakar and every time I think of my father. 35 years ago he first put me on a motorcycle and I will never forget that gift he gave me. Ever since this race started I have had 3 dreams. The 1st dream was to take part. The 2nd dream was to finish. The 3rd dream was to ride on a blue machine just like Schlesser and to be able to have a logistic worthy of its name. There are not many men that realise all their dreams.

CARS

Syndiely Wade (Gauloises Nissan) 52nd (at 43.14'03)

This race has been extremely difficult, but the welcome I have received here makes it all worthwhile. There are no words to describe my emotions... Hopefully I will be able to come back next year.

TRUCKS

Gerard De Rooy (Gauloises De Rooy) 5th overall (at 9.34'39)

We didn't have a lot of luck early on and lost a lot of time. Then towards the end things started to go better and we won 3 consecutive stages. That is the magic of the Dakar -- you never know what will happen...

-gauloises-

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Series DAKAR