Well before the start of the 2013 Dakar Rally, it seemed like there was no point in actually running the race. The fans and press were touting Frenchman Cyril Despres as the likely winner, mostly because his KTM teammate Marc Coma had dropped out of the rally with shoulder problems before the start, and nobody else looked up to the task of beating the four-time Dakar winner over the next 14 days. All Despres had to do was not trip and fall as he climbed the steps to the top of the podium.
But Despres’s road to victory was far from smooth. He was pressured by the factory Yamaha and Husqvarna teams, as well as his own KTM teammates, including American Kurt Caselli who put in a strong rookie performance that included actually winning two stages on Coma’s ailing bike. Even Despres’s own bike bit him in the butt, forcing an engine swap. But when the final stage was over, Despres had his fifth Dakar title.
KTM had even more to be proud of, with its bikes carrying the next four riders—Ruben Faria, Chaleco Lopez, Ivan Jakes, and Joan Pedrero—to second- through fifth-place finishes. But Yamaha, Husqvarna, and Honda—in its first Dakar Rally in 21 years—put up a good fight, showing any one of them could be a contender in 2014. Yamaha’s Olivier Pain finished sixth overall, followed by Honda’s Helder Rodrigues and Javier Pizzolito in seventh and eighth, with Frans Verhoeven (Yamaha) and Paulo Goncalves (Husqvarna) rounding out the top 10.