ABU DHABI // Frenchman Cyril Despres and Marc Coma of Spain are to renew their rivalry at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge later this month. Arguably the two best riders in the FIM Cross-Country Rally World Championship, they have confirmed their participation in the March 20-27 event. Virtually nothing separates the Andorra-based Despres from his Catalunyan rival, with the rivals having chased each other at the Dakar Rally in South America in January.
Coma clinched his second Dakar victory in Buenos Aires while Despres came in second. Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the FIA vice president for Sport and president of the Automobile & Touring Club of the UAE, is a happy man. "Their duels for supremacy on events like the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and the Dakar are what make this sport so special," Sulayem said yesterday. "I expect they will enjoy a terrific battle again at the end of this month." Despres, who has done well here, is expectant of a repeat performance on his KTM 690 factory bike.
He beat Coma by 90 seconds on the first selective section from Al Dafra to Liwa last time around, with the contest settled in his favour on the fourth desert leg through the Rub Al Khali. Despres won the stage as clutch trouble forced Coma out. "The Dakar Rally has moved to South America and the format has completely changed," he said. "But the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is a real desert rally and to win it for the fifth time last November was a special feeling for me."
The Coma KTM Repsol rider, however, is gearing up to back his recent Dakar success with glory in the UAE. "I have unfinished business in Abu Dhabi," he said. "Dakar was a great result for me. The event was far more difficult than anyone predicted and I don't expect the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge to be any different. "It may be slightly cooler than the temperatures we faced in early November [when the race was held here previously], but I am sure that the dunes will be as challenging as always," he added.