First triumph for Despres, Peter doubles
On an edition deeply touched by the tragic deaths of Fabrizio Meoni and José 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 Frétigné, 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.