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MOTORCYCLE RACE: COMA AND DESPRES, IN FINE COMPANY

For the first time on the Personal Dakar Argentina-Chile the title will go to a 450cc rider. While KTM's Marc Coma and Cyril Despres are the odds on favorites, the rally has never been as open as 2011, with seven constructors capable of a podium finish.

With the change to a smaller engine capacity for all the elite riders, the list of contenders for the win as well as the bikes capable of going all the way has increased considerably from last year's rally. Questions can even be posed if this is the end of an era in which KTM has won the last nine Dakars. The Austrian company will face much stiffer competition in 2011, but it has retained serious arguments to validate its re-conversion. The technical know-how acquired over the years has allowed the KTM engineers and mechanics to roll out a competitive 450cc for its first major race. Even more importantly, KTM has retained the two superstars of the sport, Marc Coma and Cyril Despres, who have combined to win the last five editions. The pure riding skills, management of physical effort and race tactics will no doubt result in another duel between the Catalan and the Andorran. In their only confrontation since the Dakar with the new 450 on the Morocco Rally it was Despres getting the upper hand.

But the regular outsiders could transform into real contenders for the title beginning with a third KTM rider, Pal-Anders Ullevalseter, who rode under the radar to finish second last year. As for the competition, Aprilia made a tremendous debut in 2010, with Francisco "Chaleco" Lopez finishing third. If the Chilean, who went on to win the Rally of Tunisia, continues to progress, he will pose a real threat to Coma and Despres. The Italian company has another capable candidate in Alain Duclos who finished 6th last year. Among KTM's rivals, Yamaha has been racing the 450cc for the longest time and brings a new and more complete bike for 2011. The fruits of this investment could be reaped by Helder Rodrigues (4th in 2020), but also Jonah Street (7th) and Jordi Viladoms, who have both been recruited by the Japanese firm, where they join Olivier Pain (9th).

The 450cc challenge is just as important for David Casteu, who is associated with the Sherco Team, and who won the opening special stage on the 2010 Dakar, but then retired two days later with a seriously injured thigh. After that the native of Nice went on to win his category in the Rally-Raid World Cup. Already present with Frans Verhoeven; BMW raised its ambition with the recruitment of David Fretigne. While the Frenchman has been forced to withdrawal due to injury, the team has brought in Brazilian Ze Hello (12th in 2009). Honda's lead rider is American baja specialist, Quinn Cody who makes his Dakar debut. For the honorary title of fastest rookie, Ivan Boano on a Beta will be one rider not to overlook.

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Series DAKAR