KTM riders matched in skill and determination
There has rarely been a rally so competitively fought and one where the two KTM riders, competing on the newly developed KTM Rally bike were so equal in skill, tactics and determination. Despres and Coma were also head and shoulders above the competition and long before the end of the journey it was clear that this was to be a two-man race between equally skilled riders, who now each have three of the coveted Dakar trophies. When the unfortunate 10 minute penalty incurred by Cyril in the early stages of the rally is taken into consideration then both he and Marc were so closely matched throughout the rally that they frequently came in minutes, sometimes even seconds apart. The 33rd edition of this great event was also a fitting tribute to the Austrian brand because seven of the top 10 riders were on KTMs.
A triumph for KTM
The 2011 Dakar was nothing short of a triumph for KTM and a very strong response to the surprise rule change introduced without warning by the Dakar organizers in the middle of 2009, which restricted professional riders from competing on bikes exceeding 450 ccm. This was widely seen as an attempt to break the KTM stranglehold on the title and as a result, Despres and Coma competed in the 2010 on the KTM 690 rally bike fitted with restrictors to reduce the performance down to the equivalent of a 450 ccm machine. It didn't make any difference to the outcome and Cyril Despres took his third title. KTM's response to the rule change was to have their R&D department go into top gear to design a Dakar competitive 450 ccm rally bike. The new KTM 450 Rally Replica was therefore the result of intense work by the KTM R&D department, with valuable input by both Coma and Despres, including hundreds of hours of testing. The bike made its first appearance in the autumn of 2010 where Des pres rode it to victory in the desert sands of the Rally of Morocco.
New era in rally sport for KTM
The overwhelming success of the two KTM riders and the 450 Rally bike also heralds a new era for KTM in rally sport. As soon as the final result was announced, there was a strong message from the company headquarters in Mattighofen, Austria that the production model of the new bike would begin immediately and that KTM would use the Dakar Rally as its major marketing platform as it launches into a much more aggressive era in the sport. KTM CEO Stefan Pierer said the company had not only developed the best rally bike on the market but also planned to introduce new and interesting packages for both rally teams and individual rally enthusiasts. He added that KTM wanted to see riders from as many countries as possible on the new KTM Rally Replica.
Best bike; best riders
The 2011 edition was a concrete example of how competitive the bike could be in the hands of the two best exponents of rally sport so it is worthwhile reflecting on the highlights of what turned out to be 14 days of thrilling competition that ended as a triumph for the Austrian brand.
How the Dakar 2011 unfolded
The first competitive stage from Victoria started with 566 km on the road and a relative short special of 192 km. At the end of the day it was Despres co-rider Ruben Faria who was fastest across the line but Despres was retroactively awarded the stage win after Faria was handed a one minute time penalty. Despres and Coma therefore finished 1-2 and they were just 1 minute apart. The third rider was Coma's co-rider Juan Pedrero of Spain.
Despres opened the road for Stage Two as riders headed from Cordoba to San Miguel and although closely shadowed by Coma, succeeded in taking his second stage win. After 440km on the road and a 300 km special where they headed into the forest, Cyril was just 1:49 faster than Marc and only 2 minutes 35 separated the two. The next day it was Coma who took the stage coming in 2:21 ahead of Despres who stayed in front of the standings by only 14 seconds after a mammoth 521 km special through desert canyons and into the forest.
Coma won Stage Four when riders crossed the Andes into Chile, again by the smallest margin. He was 16 seconds faster than Despres and two seconds ahead in the overalls. It was clear by now that this was going to be a dramatic rally, especially after Despres received a retrospective 10 minute penalty for failing to pass a marker flag in the haze of the early morning start. Neither rider was to know that this point what this would mean for the final results.
Coma and Despres continued to shadow each other during the tough rides in the Atacama Desert and at the rest day after Stage Six Despres had reduced the 10-minute penalty to 8:48, which after Stage Seven, he had carved down to 7:24 after they had finished just over a minute apart. Deep in the sands of Chile's coastal desert, Coma took Stage Eight with Despres less than two minutes behind. The Spaniard also won Stage 10 and had extended his overall lead to just over 18 minutes. Despres responded the only way he knows. He won Stage 11 by 2:11 from Coma and cut the deficit to 16 minutes. His best chance to close the gap was in the penultimate Stage 12 but this time Coma won by just 37 seconds to hold onto the overall. He then closed off his third Dakar victory on arrival back in Buenos Aires.
Among the leaders at the end of the rally were Coma's water carrier Pedrero in sixth place and Faria, Cyril's co-rider in eighth overall to round off a sensational ride for the MRW KTM factory team of Coma and Pedrero and the Red Bull KTM team of Despres and Faria. The 2011 Dakar will go down in the record books as one of the closest and hardest fought from the first to the last stage.
The 2011 Dakar in numbers
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