When KTM announced its Dakar team in March and five-time Dakar Rally Champion Cyril Despres wasn’t on it, most insiders figured that the Frenchman was headed to Honda to spearhead its effort in the world’s biggest off-road rally. Wrong.

Despes is headed to the factory Yamaha team. And not only did Yamaha sign the most successful Dakar racer of the last decade, they also announced the Despres signing in a release just a few hours before Honda made its Dakar team announcement at Mugello in Italy today.

Despres will spearhead Yamaha’s assault on Dakar with Frenchman Michael Metge serving as his support rider. Despres’ long-time “domestique,” or water boy, Ruben Faria, has re-signed with KTM. Faria finished second behind Despres in the 2013 Dakar Rally.

“I am very motivated by the idea of joining Yamaha’s ‘men in blue,’ “Despres said today. “I remember watching them on TV as a boy and dreaming... Within the brand I have discovered a strong feeling of family, with an excellent flow of communication and a technical staff that is motivated and open to feedback. I am certain we will form a strong, united team, focused on one objective: achieving victory. I am also delighted to have Michael Metge as support rider. He is an ambitious newcomer who entered his first Dakar successfully this year and is extremely motivated.”

Despres will ride the team’s YZ450F, a bike that scored two stage victories in this year’s race with David Casteau and Frans Verhoeven at the controls; and the Yamaha team held the overall standings for four days with Frenchman Olivier Pain before mechanical problems pushed them down the order.

One man who certainly will be smiling today is the late Jean-Claude Olivier, the Frenchman known as “JCO” who was killed in a car accident earlier this year. Olivier competed in the Dakar between 1979 and 1989, finishing second in 1985. He was a former president of Yamaha Motor France and was instrumental in Stephane Peterhansel’s six Dakar victories on Yamahas.

“We had the chance of meeting Cyril Despres after the 2013 Dakar,” said Eric de Seynes, CEO of Yamaha Motor France. “Straightaway we understood that not only has he the experience, technical know-how and riding ability to make the Yamaha shine, but also that we share the same values and ambitions. He gave us the desire to work with him because his straightforward manner and professional approach won us over. He is a new source of motivation for all our technicians and for the brand. Both his track record and his personality make him an appreciated public figure who brings an international impact that will benefit Yamaha’s entire global market.”

Honda, meanwhile, made its team announcement in Mugello, on the eve of the start of the Italian MotoGP. Honda has inked deals with five riders to ride the CRF450 Rally – Helder Rodrigues, Sam Sunderland, Javier Pizzolito, Joan Barreda and Paul Goncalves.

Rodriguez has raced in seven Dakar Rallies and has six stage wins and two podium finishes to his credit. The Portuguese racer finished seventh overall in 2013; Sunderland finished third in this year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, but the 23-year-old Brit was knocked out of this year’s Dakar Rally early on; Pizzolito suffered a broken femur and elbow in the 2012 edition of the Dakar and finished eighth overall in 2013; Barreda is likely the biggest star in the team, the Spanish rider winning a stage of the Dakar in 2012 and four stages in this year’s race. Only mechanical woes prevented him from challenging for the overall victory; Goncalves is the veteran of the group, the Portuguese rider having started his Dakar career in 2009. The 34-year-old finished 10th overall in this year’s race.

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Paul Carruthers | Editor

Paul Carruthers took over as the editor of Cycle News in 1993 after serving as associate editor since starting his career at the publication in 1985. Carruthers has covered every facet of the sport in his near-28-year tenure at America's Daily Motorcycle News Source.

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