It all came down to the 13th of 14 stages in the 2012 edition of the Dakar Rally. For Cyril Despres it was lucky stage 13. For Marc
Coma it was definitely unlucky as a mechanical problem and a navigational error cost
him the opportunity to take the rally down to
the very final day after 12 stages of intense,
back-and-forth racing between the two factory KTMs.
But on Saturday, January 14, it unraveled badly
for Coma, the defending race champion suffering a transmission problem before getting lost in
the sand dunes of Chile roughly 128 miles into the
stage. At day’s end it cost him 12 minutes and 38
seconds. And it cost him the rally.
Despres, meanwhile, took full advantage of
Coma’s bad day, finishing second in the stage to
Yamaha’s Helder Rodrigues. That put him 11 minutes and three seconds ahead going into the final
stage. The Dakar was over.
On Sunday, January 15, Despres was able to
enjoy the mostly ceremonial short final stage with
a victory ride into Lima’s historical district – Plaza
de Armas – with his fourth Dakar title in hand. He
was 10th on Sunday with 43-year-old Pal Anders Ul-levalseter taking his only stage victory of this year’s
race. Coma was second.
“Today we won and it’s simply fantastic,” Despres said. “This is without a shadow of a doubt
the toughest Dakar I’ve ever raced in. It was difficult physically, but even more psychologically.
Challenging yourself every morning and fighting on
the course takes its toll on your mind. It’s not like a
42-kilometer marathon; here you have to earn your
place every morning. All victories are beautiful, but
this one is special because it came down to the
wire and was decided at the last minute. This was
an unimaginable scenario, with the leaders separated by mere seconds. I’ve done 90 or 85 rallies
throughout my life, and this one was the one where
I had to fight the hardest. Today will leave its mark
KTM has now won the Dakar rally every year
since 2001 (with the exception of 2008 when it was
canceled because of security threats). In the 2012
edition, eight of the top 10 finishers and 15 of the
top 20 rode KTMs.
“After overcoming yesterday’s disappointment,
today the feelings are a bit different,” said Coma,
the winner of five stages in this year’s rally. “I am
happy and I think we must be proud of the race
we did. We fight against all odds and we had a
chance to victory up until the last day. I think the
final assessment is positive. We leave knowing we
competed well, we fought until the end and, al-
though we had to recover during the race, we must
be happy of the Dakar we did. We’ll be back next
The final results show Coma finishing 53 min-
utes and 20 seconds behind Despres, but it was
much closer than that. New rules this year penal-
ized riders for changing engines – 15 minutes the
first time and 45 minutes the second time. Both
Despres and Coma were penalized 15 minutes at
the halfway stage of the rally for changing engines;
and Coma was docked another 45 minutes in the
Frenchman Cyril Despres won his fourth Dakar Rally on
Sunday after a spirited, race-long battle with fellow KTM
factory rider Marc Coma.