A bitter victory for a "blue" guy from KTM
Just how often does a sportsman imagine the moment when he will actually claim a victory he has desired for years? For sure, Cyril Despres must have imagined this moment a lot different. For the first time he won the toughest rally in the world; he won the 27th Dakar Rally. But it is a bitter victory. "I am very happy to have won," claimed Cyril Despres. "But I believe I won't cope with what I have accomplished for yet another few weeks. At the moment I'm just relieved and satisfied that I could keep my promise which Fabrizio and I had given each other during the test runs in Tunisia. We wanted a "blue" rider to stand on top of the podium in Dakar. We wanted to do this for Richard. Now that I have managed it, the victory is also dedicated to Fabrizio."
It is understandable that all victory celebrations on the podium were cancelled -- no champagne, no cheers. It was a time of remembrance of Richard Sainct and Fabrizio Meoni. "January 11th was a black day," stated Cyril Despres, Dakar champion. "It had hurt so much to lose Fabrizio. Afterwards my head was empty. First we lost Richard, then Fabrizio. It will take a long time until we comprehend all of this. Nevertheless, I believe it was the right decision to continue the rally. I love racing, just as Fabrizio did. He too, got back on a motorbike after Richard's accident. My motorcycle was exactly the place to find myself again."
Fabrizio Meoni died on January 11th on the special from Atar to Kiffa. It is still hard to grasp that the double Dakar winner will never again ride a bike through the desert. "I have learned so much from Fabrizio and Richard," explained Cyril Despres. "I had the same troubles they had in the beginning of my career. They learnt to go fast thanks to guys like Peterhansel, Magnaldi and Orioli. When I started they were my guides. Trying to follow them, understanding how to cope with navigation helped me improve. I don't know if I ever really had an idol, but that I am here today is thanks to Fabrizio and Richard."
Fabrizio Meoni is the eleventh motorcycle rider in the history of the Dakar rally who has lost his life.
With Cyril Despres' victory KTM has also reached its actual goal in this year's Dakar. For the 5th time a rider won the toughest rally in the world on a motorcycle from the manufacturer in Mattighofen. With that KTM outdid the manufacturers Yamaha and BMW. But no one is getting overly excited about this. "At the moment the sporting success is totally pushed in the background," explained Winfried Kerschhaggl, KTM marketing director. "We are thinking about the future right now. If we cannot find some common ground about the safety, we will have to think about or engagement in the future. The motorcycles have not become that much faster over the previous few years. But the density of great riders has definitely increased. We would like the rally to become more sporting again and this means more navigation."
Fabrizio Meoni was able to claim the first victory on a KTM in 2001. In 2002 the Italian was able to repeat this success. In 2003 Richard Sainct gains his 3rd Dakar victory -- his first one on a KTM. As the first Spaniard, Nani Roma won the Dakar on a KTM last year. And now Cyril Despres is the winner. It should have been an incredible day for all those, who work in Mattighofen to further the rally sport. But surely no one is in the mood to celebrate now.
Claudia Patuzzi outlined the sporty resume of the successful Team KTM Gauloises as follows: "Until the stage Atar-Kiffa everything was working out perfectly. In the end I'm proud of the riders and my team. Actually I'm proud of all the teams which managed to finish the Dakar under such difficult circumstances. After January 11th the race and winning was totally pushed into the background. But we were also able to feel the spirit of the Dakar again. It is the incredible feeling when people support each other and we all become a large family. I am also happy for Cyril and Alfie."
Team KTM Repsol-Red Bull missed its goal by a small margin. Just like the last year they had set out to provide a champion, a second Spanish Dakar winner. Isidre Esteve Pujol had been expecting a lot before the start in Barcelona. He missed a place on the podium not by much; he finished in 4th. Another rider, Marc Coma, was also almost in reach of the ultimate triumph. He is in 2nd in the rankings on his 2nd Dakar. It is a gigantic success. On the 8956 km rally Marc was barely 9 minutes adrift on Cyril. "I am more than satisfied with my second place," claimed Marc. "For us it was very important to perform as a team with potential this year, after Nani had left us. And we are a strong team. Unfortunately Jordi had to pull out of the race rather early. But Isidre, Gio and I had a great rally." Isidre Esteve Pujol and Marc Coma are two potential riders for the Spanish. Both are worthy successors of Nani Roma. "I am very glad about my team," so Jordi Arcarons, team manager. "We have worked extremely hard and have finished excellently. It is an accomplishment we can work with in the future."
The debut of the American factory riders Chris Blais and Kellon Walch was very promising. Scot Harden, team manager and rider, has obviously found two diamonds which have undergone some major grinding in their first desert rally. The young rookies from the US would like to return. "It is the toughest race that I have ever participated in," explained Kellon Walch. "But I've got to admit that I also had a lot of fun. I had no problems concerning my physical condition and navigation got easier with every new stage. But most important of all is that all three of us have reached Dakar. Everything went very well for us." His team manager seems to think alike. "To reach Dakar was our most important goal," stated Scot Harden. "Chris and Kellon were further able to rank in excellent positions. We have worked very hard here and we have learnt a lot. Therefore I like to claim that we have accomplished the first part of our three-year plan. Next year we'll ride for a place on the podium. We'll come back here!"
Other than Fabrizio Meoni's and Jose Manuel Perez's (KTM amateur) deaths the rally was especially influenced by one thing: the weather. Troubles already started in Morocco when the 4th stage between Rabat and Agadir had to be annulled. A sandstorm in Mauritania which lasted for days added to the already tough stages. The storm completely mixed up the rally calendar. The first part of the marathon stage from Zouerat to Tichit lasted for two days. The second day had to be cancelled so that the riders and drivers could gather again.
Some more statistical facts: Nine of the twelve stages for motorcycles were won by KTM pilots. Cyril Despres (Team KTM Gauloises) claimed two stage wins, just like Andy Caldecott (Team KTM Motorex Australia). Fabrizio Meoni (Team KTM Gauloises), Isidre Esteve Pujol (Team KTM Repsol-Red Bull), Marc Coma (Team KTM Repsol-Red Bull), Kellon Walch (Team KTM Red Bull USA) and the KTM private rider Jean de Azevedo each were able to clinch one stage win.
Alfie Cox, who always ranked among the best riders, moved along well-balanced. He never managed to claim a top spot, but he won the 3rd place in the overall. The South African thinks about his future now. "Most probably I'm going to stop racing rallies. I'll need to think about it during the next few weeks and I'll need to talk to my family about it. I like my bike and I perform great on it. But a lot of things have happened during the previous months."
His teammate Jean Brucy has already drawn his conclusions. "This was my last rally on a motorcycle," he claimed. "I had decided that this was going to be my last Dakar on a motorbike a long time ago. Maybe I'll return racing in a car. It all depends if I 'm able to find a sponsor." With Jean leaving the motorbike rally scene someone who had a standing as the fastest mechanic in the world will be gone. With his handiwork he had already helped Richard Sainct to win the Dakar and this year he has helped Cyril Despres. Jean is someone one could always depend on. He will be missed by KTM.
230 motorcycles left Barcelona more than two weeks ago. 104 of them have reached Dakar today. We all have great respect for them.
KTM likes to thank everyone who has worked for uncountable hours to contribute to the success in the 27th Dakar. However, it is difficult to celebrate this victory because two riders are missing.
For every rally participant who made it to Dakar a dream came true. It is especially for this last special at Lac Rose just outside Dakar's gates that the competitors endure two strenuous weeks. It is a joyful ride. Everyone is celebrated by an audience of several thousands of people. Everyone who participates in this last stage is a Dakar hero.
There was one question left open: Would Alfie Cox defend his place on the podium against Isidre Esteve Pujol? Or would the Spaniard from Team Repsol-Red Bull challenge the South African in the overall? Alfie Cox has won the match, but by close margin!
Kellon Walch from Team KTM Red Bull USA won the stage. He clocked a time of 17'17 minutes on the 31 km special. It was an excellent ending for the American KTM team which rode an incredible rally. Isidre Esteve Pujol claimed a 2nd place. He had started the final attack in third and came in 52 seconds behind Walch. The Netherlander Eric Verhoef, KTM amateur, arrived 0'55 seconds adrift.