"If what I wanted was simplicity I would have stayed at KTM"
As part of a completely reshuffled panorama in the bikes category, Cyril Despres will be at the start line in the Dakar on a Yamaha, after ten years and five wins with KTM. With just two months to go, the French rider offered a short interview to organisers ASO.
Q: Cyril Despres, this is a decisive season in your career, since you have drawn your brilliant adventure with KTM to a close and have now joined Yamaha. Did you need this change to keep you motivated?
Cyril Despres: If what I wanted was simplicity I would have stayed at KTM. It’s a good idea to change teams after a while, if you stay too long in one place you run the risk of getting stuck in a rut. Quite simply, I wanted to try my luck somewhere else. When I went to visit Yamaha in Paris something just clicked. There are photos of the early days of the Dakar all over the place, you can feel the spirit of Jean-Claude Olivier or Stéphane Peterhansel; the place breathes and exudes the rally-raid atmosphere, and I realised straight away that I would be surrounded by people with the same passion I have for the Dakar. Right now, there is only one thing that really interests me: to see if I still win the race after changing bikes.
Q: You have prepared a rather lighter competition programme for this season. Is it sufficient to aim for victory with a new bike?
Cyril Despres: As a competitor I like to pay attention to detail, and I would always prefer to feel more confident about my chances in the Dakar, I will never have too much of it. At the same time, I know that this approach suits me, and it works. We have done a lot of testing, and if that means I have fewer days of competition with the Yamaha, well, that’s fine. The real test will come in January.
Q: A sixth win, equalling the record of Stéphane Peterhansel, that’s a really exciting challenge…
Cyril Despres: You have to stay calm, it’s difficult to venture anything, and everything is new. Basically, I don’t want to disappoint myself or other people. I think it could go well, though, and if I could do it the first time out … that would really be fun!
Q: After your first contact with the Yamaha, do you feel it can rival the KTMs?
Cyril Despres: The problem is that all my rivals have developed a new bike this year, so I really don’t know enough to express an opinion at this stage. Anyway, it’s a very powerful bike that showed its performance in the first stages of the last Dakar. Of the changes that I have experienced, its acceleration is very linear. It is also smaller and more compact, which makes it very pleasant to ride.
Q: Your competitors have evolved: Apart from the duel you usually have with Marc Coma, some outsiders seem to be really strong aspirants to the title …
Cyril Despres: Yes, but if you compare it with cycling, for example, some riders just focus on one race … it could be the Tour de France, the World Championship, or perhaps the Paris-Roubaix. That is my case with the Dakar. Basically, not many of us have proved that we can compete in this event on a regular basis, year after year. I think that the key to my success has been experience. I’m not competing against the others: they make progress and they are quick, but they don’t frighten me.