Third time lucky, they say, and Patrick Trahan proved the truth of that by completing nearly 9,000 km in the Dakar rally on his third attempt, 55th out of 88 finishers. That makes him only the fourth Canadian to conquer this monster event, in the wheel tracks of Lawrence Hacking, Guy Giroux, and Bob Bergman.
Trahan rode with the Dutch-based Honda Europe team, so had excellent support along the way. He had good and bad days, including a crash at 120 km/h. He got through that with only bruises and remarkably little bike damage. The mechanics fixed the bike and Patrick decided to take it much easier, and keep his thoughts with the finish line.
The winner of two special stages in this 32nd edition, and the leader in the overall standings since Stage 3, was Frenchman Cyril Despres (KTM), more than one hour ahead of Norwegian rider Pal Anders Ullevalseter (KTM), who was in turn only seven minutes ahead of Chilean rider Francisco "Chaleco" Lopez Contardo (Aprilia).
Despres, who now lives in Andorra, is celebrating his third Dakar victory after wins in 2005 and 2007, giving KTM 10 victories in a row. Six of the top 10 finishers were on KTM, with three Yamahas and one Aprilia making up the rest of the best. With 46 of the finishers on KTM, the Austrian make covered more than half the field.
Next year the bikes will be limited to 450 cc, so the big Katoom 690s won’t be running any longer. However, since three of the top five riders this year were on 450s, it’s not likely to affect the competition or the speeds very much.
Despres said, "All victories are nice but this one is particularly beautiful. It is the victory of hard work, of expertise and of an incredible team … I am still human; I know I have been riding this bike for 15 days and I am exhausted but the little strength I had left just went in tears. KTM played a big part in this victory. They trusted us."
Second-place Ullevalseter said, "To finish second in the standings is more than I expected. … The party is on for weeks to come now. I’ve been training for this moment for 25 years."
Defending champion Marc Coma (Spain; KTM) finished 15th. He was more than fast enough to have defended his title, winning four of the stages, but his challenge was killed by one day’s engine problems, and a series of penalties.
Rumour is that the Dakar will switch back to its traditional African venue in 2011, from Tunisia to Egypt. Whether it does or not, the South American venture has proven very successful for this three-decade-old mother of all off-road rallies.