'It's a fantastic feeling to win the Dakar'

France’s Luc Alphand, driving a Mitsubishi, improved on his runners-up spot last year to win the Dakar Rally following the 15th and final stage in Dakar on Sunday ahead of South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers and Nani Roma of Spain.

Spain’s Marc Coma, riding a KTM, won the motorcycling category for the first ever time. The Catalonian beat reigning champion Cyril Despres of France into second spot with Italy’s Giovanni Sala finishing third.

Coma, the second Spaniard to win after Roma in 2004, claimed victory without winning a single stage.

Alphand, the 1997 overall World Cup skiing champion, said afterwards: “This was definitely the most exciting Dakar Rally that I have been involved in.

“I knew I had a chance. Our team was up against it in Morocco, but we were confident that our experience and our car would be stronger in Mauritania.
That is where we won the Dakar.”

Despite fierce pressure from de Villiers, Alphand took few risks over the closing three days of the 14-stage event to record a winning margin of 17 minutes 53 seconds.

“My first attempt at the Dakar Rally ended with a seat in a helicopter and I never wanted to be in that position again,” added Alphand.

“The team worked so hard on the development of our car and I think over the 15 days we were the better all-round team. It’s a fantastic feeling to win the Dakar.

“I experienced many highs and lows in my skiing career, but this is so different.”

The race was marred by the death of two boys and of Australian rider Andy Caldecott and, with security concerns mounting, there was no timed section during the final stage around Lac Rose, near Dakar.

Alphand effectively won the event on stage 12 when defending champion and the-then leader Stephane Peterhansel had a costly tangle with a tree, allowing Alphand to win the stage and take the lead. Alphand himself lost about 30 minutes after hitting a tree on stage 10.

De Villiers was taking part in only his fourth Dakar Rally and was even in the lead after six days.

“Obviously we are delighted about Volkswagens second place finish and also for Giniel de Villiers and [co-driver] Tina Thorner in this year’s Dakar Rally, which was extremely tough, fast and exciting,” said Volkswagen motorsport director Kris Nissen.

“At the same time we are disappointed that we didnt win. A win was our target. The opportunity and potential were there, but unfortunately they went begging.”

Peterhansel, the double defending champion and six time motorcyle winner, was fourth overall.

“I made a mistake a few days ago and with the level of competition we have seen this year on the Dakar, there was no way I could recover that time,” said Peterhansel.

“Whether you finish fourth or fifth does not really matter. I am disappointed that I could not complete the hat-trick of wins, but Mitsubishi has won the race and that is the priority. It is also great for Luc and [co-driver] Gilles Picard to take a first win

together.”

Mitsubishi team president Isao Torii praised the work of the French-Japanese outfit.

“I have been with this team for the last two victories and this was the most exciting of the races,” he said.

“It has been a privilege to be a part of this success and to see the French and Japanese members of the team working together so successfully. On Monday, we will switch our focus to preparing to win the race for a seventh successive time in 2007.” - Sapa-AFP

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