It is the second time Despres has won the Dakar
Cyril Despres had his bad moments in the 29th Dakar. He needed the help of his friends to move on. He crashed, he struggled, he fought. But in the end, on the podium at the borders of the Lac Rose near Dakar, Despres was the
glorious and excited winner of the Dakar. Three days before his 33rd birthday the trophy was the best gift the KTM Gauloises rider could imagine.
It is the second time Despres has won the Dakar. He did it before in 2005. But this time it was different. ‘I am a different person than two years ago. My priority is having fun, enjoying riding my bike instead of racing. I have been through a difficult time. I have lost dear friends, people who were very close to me. They have been on my mind for the whole rally. This made me realise racing is not the most important thing in life. I have learned about the relativeness of life. It made me a better, stronger and also a more balanced person. What I can tell now, at this moment, this victory means a lot more to me.'
Despres didn't have the best imaginable start of the Dakar. On the rest day in Atar, after 7 stages, he was in fourth position, 44.56 minutes behind Marc Coma. Although the difference after stage 8 was ten minutes bigger, Despres moved up to second.
‘I approached it day by day, tried not to look forward too far. I have never doubted that winning the Dakar again was possible. I knew I could do it, I know my skills and had faith in myself and my bike. I was happy almost every day at the finish line, knowing I did a good job.'
Only after the crash of Coma, on stage 13 from Kayes to Tambacounda, Despres moved up to first, but in fact it was the worst day of the Dakar for him. ‘I did not know what had happened to Marc,' Despres tells. ‘All I knew in the beginning is that he was far behind. At the tank stop David Castera (race director) told me Marc had crashed, but he didn't know how serious it was. The last 30 minutes of that special, I was really, really scared.
We have lost too many friends in the desert in the past. The thought of that, was too much. I prayed for Marc, wishing he was alright.'
At the finish Despres – he won that stage - heard Coma was alive and well and the Frenchman had to sit down for a while to think things over. ‘I needed some time for myself. I have had some unlucky and unhappy moments myself in the rally, with a crash in Portugal and one in Morocco and I had a bit of trouble with my bike. But being sad and scared is much worse than being unhappy. After arriving in Tambacounda I went to see Marc and I was impressed. He wished me luck.'
Getting the leading position only two days before the finish was not too bad for Despres, although he preferred to be in the lead from the beginning. ‘It didn't make me nervous, but it is a different pressure, not very easy. When you are in second you feel the need to put push harder and take more risks. It is easy to make mistakes then. I had to stay very concentrated. I was able to do that thanks to training and being very fit. That was the secret of this victory.'
‘It wasn't too difficult,' Despres admitted. ‘But on the other hand, it is never difficult when you're winning. To be honest, every Dakar is difficult. We didn't have any big dunes, which made it easier physically. But every stage had something interesting, in navigation, in speed, in soft sand, whatever.'
Being on a bike and enjoying the ride also helped to stay focussed. Despres is not thinking of swapping his KTM for a car, as other winners in the bike category did before him. ‘No, no, not at all. I love the desert but I also love my bike, a lot. I want to do keep doing this, as long as I can. A car is not my thing. Normally I fall asleep after 100 kms in the car.'