Just weeks after we conducted this interview, KTM surprisingly announced that its 2013 Rally team won’t include Despres, the racer who won all five of his Dakar rallies on the Austrian bikes. As of this date, Despres hasn’t officially revealed his intentions for 2013, but it’s expected that he’ll fill a seat on Honda’s reborn rally team. –Ed.
Motorcycle.com: Best Memory of the 2013 Dakar?
Cyril Despre: My best memory is maybe my worst memory, when I had my broken gearbox. Changing it gave me the possibility to win.
MO: What part of the Dakar do you prefer?
CD: The rally trails like we see in Argentina because you need to be smart, you need to be clean on every corner, you need to take care of your tires. The power of the rider is very important when it is like this because it is really technical and a mistake is easy to make.
MO: Is Dakar a team sport?
CD: It’s definitely an individual sport, but it’s a team victory. First you need to trust your mechanic, and your teammate is always nearby in case something happens. If you take all other two-wheel sports, the Dakar is the one where the team is the most important, especially because it’s 15 days. You have to live in the bivouac together and share everything together.
MO: What do you eat during the race?
CD: On the bike I have some cereal bars and that’s about all I carry. It’s not a holiday, I don’t wear a backpack and look for a nice place to eat, I stop every 250 kilometers to put fuel in the bike and eat a cereal bar.
MO: Do you communicate with your team during the race?
CD: No, it’s forbidden. Dakar is changing, but it’s still like it was 20 years ago. We don’t have any contact with anybody. We have to find our own way.
MO: What’s significant about your KTM 450 Rally bike?
CD: The biggest issue with our bike is that we’re carrying 38 liters (10 gal.) of fuel because we need to be allowed to make 250 kilometers (155 miles) without refueling.
MO: How much does your bike weigh fully loaded?
CD: The bike is 145 kilos (320 lbs.), plus three liters of water (6.6 lbs.) and 39 liters of fuel (62 lbs.), plus tools and other small items.
MO: What are the differences between the Africa Dakar and the South American Dakar?
CD: On the same day in South America you can be in dunes at the beginning of the race, then we go into the mountains and then finishing on the beach. In Africa it was different. Starting in France then all Morocco was rocks and when you finished Morocco and came into Mauritania, it was covered by sand. I wouldn’t say it was easier before, just different.
MO: What about the temperature extremes?
CD: In this Dakar we were coming over 4,900 meters (16,076 ft.) and the temperature was in the minuses (Celsius). Then, in the same day, when we came down it was over 40°C (104°F). And this changed every day. On one day it got close to 46°C (115°F).
MO: How do you train for the Dakar?
CD: More or less it was 450 hours in preparation with the bicycle, in the gym, with the motorcycle. I don’t do a lot with the motorcycle because 15 days in Dakar is for me enough.