|Dakar Rally 2013: Cyril Despres took his 5th Dakar win after 12th start.|
The favourite lived up to the expectations. Cyril Despres took his fifth Dakar win in what was his 12th start, writing another glorious page in the history of the sport and catching up with Cyril Neveu in the palmarès of his category. The Frenchman is now one step away from equalling the record for the most victories on a motorcycle, held by none other than Stéphane Peterhansel.
But his triumph in the 2013 edition also taught him a lot about the difficulty of the future challenges awaiting him. His victory was based on the traditional ingredients: a strong physical and technical performance, good navigational skills and a feeling for the race. But it also drew upon a series of circumstances, not coincidences, which he couldn't have possibly foreseen.
The defending champion was on the defensive throughout the first week, with the Yamahas in the limelight. His chances seemed to be in danger halfway throughout the marathon stage, raced over two days with a pause in an isolated bivouac in Cachi, which he reached in 5th place overall, a failing engine and the prospect of a 15-minute penalty for swapping engines with Pole Marek Dabrowski.
Cyril Despres kept his cool and rose to the challenge from the very next day, when he avoided making the same navigational blunder as his main rivals. He swept away the competition in the stage to Córdoba, the longest one of this year's rally, where he benefitted from Casteu's withdrawal and Olivier Pain's little mistakes.
The road to Santiago was clear and he now focused on helping his lieutenant and friend Ruben Faria onto the second step of the podium. Mission accomplished, once again after a few twists and turns, as KTM's Portuguese rider made the most of the mishaps plaguing Francisco López, who had to change his engine and give up his second place overall on the day before the finish due to the ensuing penalty.
The Yamahas showed they were capable of taking the fight to the KTMs, provided that they're able to polish the individual mistakes made by the two aforementioned ephemeral leaders of the general classification, but at the end of the day it was Chaleco who posed the greatest threat to the Despres-Faria duo.
President Piñera's favourite was never in the overall lead, but he grabbed five stages, including bookend wins, and finished 3rd, a mere 18'48? behind the champion. It was the closest Dakar podium since 2005, when Despres took his maiden win ahead of Marc Coma and Alfie Cox. And this despite getting a 15-minute penalty on the last day.
Chaleco had to control his hot temper in order to step on the podium of the Dakar for the second time in his career. A few of Despres' future rivals will have to do the same thing, such as Spain's Joan Barreda, who won four stages but only managed to finish 17th overall. American Kurt Caselli, a teammate of the defending champion at KTM, seems to be a fast learner after taking two stages in his first participation.
Nevertheless, the best rookie trophy goes to South Africa's Riaan Van Niekerk, who finished 13th overall. Among the riders without assistance, Hugo Payen not only drove the naked girl on his number 69 motorcycle all the way Santiago without getting her too dirty, but he also did it with the best time in his category, 49th overall. Nevertheless, Laia Sanz was the only female rider to make it to the finish, in 93rd place. A special mention for Luis Belaustegui, who closes the motorcycle category but managed to complete the Dakar in this third attempt on a 150 cc KTM, after spending 60 hours more than Despres on the course. Hats off!
2013/01/21 | 14:45 CET | ARTICLE: MR/HS/ASO