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Dakar: Face to Face, day one

Dakar: Face to Face, day one
Jan 3, 2006, 2:25 AM

Face to Face December 31, 2005 moto: A repeat performance? NUMBER 1 - GAULOISES KTM Cyril Despres (FRA) The Cyril Despres story is the stuff of dreams. A mechanic six years ago, he now finds himself in the role of title-holder for this 28th ...

Face to Face
December 31, 2005

moto: A repeat performance?

Cyril Despres (FRA)

The Cyril Despres story is the stuff of dreams. A mechanic six years ago, he now finds himself in the role of title-holder for this 28th Euromilhoes Dakar. Aged 31, the Frenchman is indisputably the man to follow at the head of the race in the bike category, his whole 2005 season having largely confirmed his status as hot favourite.

Even when he embarked on his first Dakar in 2000, there was no doubt in the mind of this native of the Paris region that he would go on to become one of the top raid rally riders in the world. After some experience in endurance and trial (he was the first Frenchman to win the Trêfle Lozerien), he and a friend set out on their first Dakar as rank outsiders. While riders such as Richard Sainct and Nani Roma were already battling for victory, the newcomer Despres was continuing his apprenticeship, but that still didn't prevent him from finishing 16th overall in the Cairo.

But it was the following year that Cyril the phenomenon was well and truly born. In the saddle of a Honda 650, he finished 3rd in the Tunisia rally, before tasting victory in its Moroccan equivalent! Courtesy of these outstanding results, he was snapped up by BMW as their 4th rider for the Dakar 2001. As water-carrier for Nani Roma, he earned the unexpected bonus of a 13th-place finish in the Dakar and, as the icing on the cake, a first African special win. For the Arras -- Madrid -- Dakar in 2002, Despres was recruited by the KTM armada, but after suffering a heavy fall due to a poorly positioned drainage channel, he was forced to pull out on Stage 7.

In 2003, for the Marseilles -- Sharm El Sheik, the Seine-et-Marne region man confirmed the ambition he had displayed the previous year in Morocco and Tunisia. In winning three specials, he finished on the second step of the podium in Egypt, wedged between a pair of track legends, Richard Sainct and Fabrizio Meoni.

The following season, Cyril moved up a gear to take the 2003 raid rally world championship title. The KTM rider then continued to break through barriers, most notably by claiming victory in Morocco. On the back of these results, he went into the 2004 Dakar with the sole target of overall victory in mind. Courtesy of an exemplary start to the race and obvious strategic qualities, he had succeeded in taking first place overall by the seventh stage. The following day proved his undoing, however, as a "blank" day where everything that could go wrong did go wrong (GPS problem, running out of petrol) shattered his hopes of victory. Nevertheless, he still finished third in the Dakar.

Having sampled the lower two steps of the podium, Cyril Despres laid the foundations for his first Dakar triumph in 2005 on the Atar-Atar loop stage, where he built up a lead he retained for the remainder of the rally. The death the following day of Fabrizio Meoni only gave him added motivation to carry onwards and upwards the colours of the KTM Gauloises team, already reeling from the loss of Richard Sainct a few months earlier. Despite a penalty cutting his lead over Marc Coma two days from the finish, it was mission accomplished at last in the Dakar.

Cyril Despres' Dakar honours
2005 Winner, Barcelona -- Dakar (2 stage victories)
2004 3rd, Clermont-Ferrand -- Dakar (4 stage victories)
2003 2nd, Telefonica-Dakar
2002 Abandoned, Arras-Madrid-Dakar
2001 13th, Paris-Dakar (one stage victory)
2000 16th, Dakar - Cairo (2nd in the 400 category)
1999 1st, Gilles Lalay Classique national
1st, Trèfle Lozerien national
1998 French endurance national B champion
13th, Tunisia rally
1993 French senior trial champion

auto: The record man

Stephane Peterhansel -- Jean-Paul Cottret

Stephane Peterhansel is one of the elite band of drivers who have shaped the Dakar. Armed with an already glorious past in... skateboarding (he was French champion at 14), but most notably in endurance, motocross and supercross, he discovered the Dakar in 1988. His first attempt, which ended in an honourable 18th-place finish, allowed him not only to rub shoulders with his mentors Cyril Neveu and Hubert Auriol, but also to confirm his affinity with the desert and, in the bike category, his navigating skills. His raid rally apprenticeship, a process hinging on the acquisition of the right blend of wisdom and panache, continued until 1991, the year of his first Dakar motorbike victory. "I finally worked out how you needed to ride," explains Peterhansel.

And this was merely the start, for the biker with the blue bandana proceeded to lift a total of six titles in eight years in the saddle of a Yamaha. When he switched to four wheels, initially for Nissan in 1999, "Peter" had to undergo a new learning curve but, before long, the qualities acquired on the bikes were coming to the fore: after finishing 7th at his first attempt, he made the second step of the podium the following year, already accompanied by Jean-Paul Cottret. In 2003, a minor infringement on the last-but-one stage deprived him of the victory he had looked certain to achieve. Consequently, his coronation was delayed until 2004, when "Peter" became only the second driver after Hubert Auriol in the history of the Dakar to win both the car and bike categories.

In total command of his art, Peterhansel coasted through the 2005 rally, keeping his only real rival, team-mate Luc Alphand, at arm's length throughout. This time around, the multiple world skiing champion again stands out as the main rival for victory, but like everyone, he has been served notice of the current form of his team leader, who looked simply awesome in the UAE Desert Challenge. In one of his few appearances of the year, "Peter" quite simply won all eight specials at the event, a grand slam that speaks volumes about his form and motivation going into the Dakar.

Stephane Peterhansel's Dakar honours
1991 1st on bike, Paris - Dakar
1992 1st on bike, Paris - Le Cap
1993 1st on bike, Paris - Dakar
1995 1st on bike, Grenada - Dakar
1997 1st on bike, Dakar - Agades - Dakar
1998 1st on bike, Paris - Grenada - Dakar
1999 7th overall, Grenada -- Dakar (car)
2000 2nd overall, Dakar - Cairo (car)
2001 12th overall (1st T1), Paris - Dakar
2002 Abandoned, Arras-Madrid-Dakar
2003 3rd, Marseilles -- Sharm-el-Sheikh
2004 1st overall, Clermont-Ferrand - Dakar
2005 1st overall, Barcelona - Dakar

Co-driver: Jean-Paul COTTRET (FRA)
Winner of the Dakar in 2004 and in 2005 as co-driver
Five finishes on the Dakar podium
Winner of the Tunisia and Morocco Rallies in 2004 as co-driver

camion: To forget 2005

Vladimir Tchaguine (RUS)
Semion Yakubov (RUS) - Serguei Savostin (RUS)

With four wins in seven attempts, the Russian Vladimir Tchaguine, at the wheel of his Kamaz 4x4, will again be among the big favourites at the start in Lisbon this year. This 28th Dakar is even more crucial for the leading driver from the Kamaz-Master stable due to his desire to erase the memory of a frustrating 2005.

Despite dominating the Dakar resoundingly and chalking up six scratches in sixteen stages, the quadruple winner was forced to content himself with a lowly 18th-place finish unbecoming of his status. This disappointment was due to him running out of fuel on the daunting 7th stage between Zouerat and Tichit, at a point when he was leading the overall ranking and ahead of his team-mate Firdaus Kabirov by 25 minutes. By the time he emerged from this mishap in 49th place out of the 53 starters and having lost a whopping 12 and a half hours, any hopes Tchaguine had harboured of achieving a fourth consecutive success were dead and buried.

For the king of the truck category, this unexpected humbling was hard to swallow! After all, this was the man who, in 1996, had made Russian motor sport history by becoming the country's first raid rally world champion. At the end of that year, he entered his first Dakar and finished in the top five overall, and the rest of his career to date has confirmed his talent as a driver: in 1999, he clinched the Desert Challenge, Dakar -- Cairo, the Italian Baja, and then the Tunisia rally in 2000. Since then, the baby of the Kamaz team has been riding the crest of the victory wave with an incredible three consecutive Dakar triumphs.

This 28th Dakar holds quite special significance for the Russian manufacturer, as a new 7th success would see them standing alone at the top of the manufacturers' winners' list, one step ahead of their historic competitor Tatra. Already miffed at having to let his water-carrier Kabirov equal the record last year, Tchaguine would dearly love to secure exclusive bragging rights for his stable.

Vladimir Tchaguine's Dakar honours
1996: 5th, Grenada - Dakar
2000: 1st overall, Dakar -- Cairo
2001: abandoned on stage 13, Paris - Dakar
2002: 1st overall, Arras -- Madrid -- Dakar
2003: 1st overall, Marseilles -- Sharm El Sheik
2004: 1st overall, Auvergne Region - Dakar
2005: 18th Barcelona -- Dakar

moto: The long-distance traveller

Christophe Barrière-Varju

With dual Franco-Australian nationality, Christophe Barrière-Varju embodies the spirit of long-distance travel. This natural propensity to roam is derived from his grandparents, who originally came from Hungary, Spain and Italy, a multicultural identity that seems to serve as his driving force today. After spending his early years in Marseilles, where his father prepared Renault racing cars, he lived in Abidjan as an adolescent, then studied at university in San Diego before getting his first jobs in California and New York.

In 2000, Christophe found his own little paradise on earth, north of Sydney. "Australia is a mix of European and American culture with brush vegetation that reminds me of the African tracks," he insists. That's why this bike-mad traveller, now the manager of a consultancy firm, will be sporting the colours of "his" three countries on the road in his first Dakar: France, Ivory Coast and Australia. "It's a bit like the United Nations on two wheels," he quips.

There is no doubt that his return to African soil for the Dakar will have a powerful emotional impact: "In fact, when I'm asked where I come from, I tend to reply 'Abidjan', because that's where I spent my entire adolescence (twelve years in total, ed's note). It's there that I started out in motocross with my father. In 1986, a friend of my father gave me Hubert Auriol's helmet and I started to win races wearing this lucky object (...) So being back in Africa on a bike will be very special for me." All the more so as his parents still live in the Ivory Coast and his sister currently resides in Mali. Consequently, Christophe simply cannot countenance failure in his declared objective: to reach Lac Rose. What's more, he's already looking beyond this year, as he intends to create an Australian team with his pal David Schwarz in time for the Dakar 2007.

Humanitarian Action: Francisco's Galician solidarity comes to the fore

Number 204
Francisco Gomez Pallas

Francisco has solidarity in his bones. When you're Galician, it's an essential value. Life in the region is tough, so mutual aid is a part of daily life. The shipwreck of the oil tanker Prestige and its environmental impact have only reinforced these links and for Francisco, the Dakar is intimately linked to this disaster. "I was in training when the ship went down. I carried on preparing for the rally while also trying to help out as best I could." On the bike he rode in his first Dakar appearance, Francisco displayed a label bearing the sombre new nickname of this corner of Spain: the "Costa Da Mort". His race became a symbol of his compatriots' struggle. "People saw that life still carries on and that when you fight, you make progress. The media were talking about me. It was as if I had gone a long way to fight a lone battle on behalf of everyone."

Going into his fourth Dakar, Francisco remains a local hero. The wave of sympathy towards him is as strong as ever and he, ever-faithful to his roots, is embarking on this latest Dakar with others at the forefront of his mind. "I've reached an agreement with Caritas to collect clothes. We have set up seven donation points in my village, Carvahlo. The aim is to collect as many clothes as possible and then distribute them in the seven countries we pass through."

Francisco has even had posters put up all over his home region declaring: "¿Africa tiene Frio? Dona tu Ropa!"("Africa is cold. Donate your clothes!" This year again, the operation's success has exceeded all expectations. "We can't fit all the clothes in the truck and we're already looking for a way to transport all the surplus. Everyone has been incredibly generous, with some shopkeepers even giving new garments." In Galicia, solidarity is clearly an eternal brand name

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