Red Bull KTM's Cyril Despres won the fifth Dakar Rally of his career today, the Frenchman finishing 17th in the 14th and final stage of this year's rally that ended in Santiago, Chile. Despres' fifth win puts him equal with Cyril Neveu and just one win away from Stephane Peterhansel's record of six Dakar Rally victories.
Francisco "Chaleco" Lopez won today's stage, but the Chilean lost out on second overall when he was docked 15 minutes at the end of the 13th stage yesterday for changing an engine in his KTM. That gave second place to Despres' teammate Ruben Faria, giving the Red Bull KTM team a one-two finish in the world's biggest rally.
Lopez, however, was able to finish third overall, just a minute and 30 seconds ahead of Slovakian Ivan Jakes. Lopez put it all together in today's stage to take the win and earn the final podium spot, winning his fifth stage in this year's rally - 29 seconds ahead of Faria and 37 seconds clear of Spaniard Joan Barreda, a four-time stage winner in this year's race.
The overall win in the rally was the fifth for Despres, but his first back-to-back run with his 2012-2013 victories going with his wins in 2005 and 2007 in Africa and his win in 2010 in South America. He ended up 10 minutes and 43 seconds ahead of his teammate Fania in the overall standings.
"It's true that I needed to cross the line and see all these pictures and people here to know that no one can take this win from me anymore," Despres said "I went for it, with all the surprises a Dakar can throw at you: little navigational mistakes, perhaps fewer than the others, dosing my motorcycle and a good team. In the end, I've got a good reason to be very happy. The day when winning the Dakar becomes easy, it won't be interesting any more. And this day is still far! It's too long, it's too tough, it's too hot, it's too cold, you've got to rise early in the morning, you've got to find your way out of the dune mazes in Peru and Chile, you've got to tackle the stones and cactuses on the courses near Córdoba... it's just too tricky for it to be easy to win. And it's even better when you win a difficult race. I'm always focused on what I have to do: I think too much about this race to be impressed. We're up against a grueling element, the desert. Then there are the stones, the Andes... and we experience them. It's as real as it gets."
Lopez was disappointed to lose out on second place, but happy with his stage wins.
"I had a problem with my gearbox yesterday and had to change my engine," he said. "Unfortunately, I was second in the overall classification. But making it to Santiago was more important than chasing an impossible second place. I'm happy because I won yesterday's stage. I went the whole nine yards every single day. With four stage wins under my belt and a podium spot, I'm happy for myself, for everyone, for Chile, for my family, for my wife. Changing the engine was the right decision. If I hadn't, I'd still be on the course. Now, this third place counts more than a second place. Especially after what happened last year and the terrible accident. It's just like winning the Dakar."
American Kurt Caselli finished 52nd in today's stage and 30th overall, but won two stages in what was his Dakar Rally debut.
Caselli's fellow Californian Johnny Campbell ended today's 14th and final stage in 18th and the Honda rider finished up 40th in the overall standings.