Born to parents who ran restaurants in his native France, Cyril looked destined to follow in the family tradition… or at least, not deviate from it quite so much. However, the young wannabe took matters into his own hands when, with an entrepreneurial aptitude to make his parents proud, he caught a train to Paris and bought his first bike.
In 1998, Despres started riding Enduro and in the very same year, he became the French Enduro Champion. Despite his success, money was still tight and with his greater ambition came greater expense. In 2000, in order to race in his first Dakar rally, Cyril sold 6,000 bottles of wine to raise the necessary money. The gamble paid off when he finished 16th, announcing his arrival on the extreme Enduro scene.
With greater success came better races and better bikes, and in 2001 Cyril gained his first Dakar stage win. In the next few years that followed, Cyril managed to bag a third and second place in the race.
Cyril's career really took off when he claimed his first Dakar Championship title in 2005. And once he had tasted victory, it appeared there was no stopping him on his way to the top. He has gone on to win the Dakar a further four times, coming in second in 2006, 2009 and 2011! In 2014, Cyril once again put in a solid effort – claiming podium spots on eight of the 13 stages – and just missed out on a podium finish with 4th overall.
But his ambition knows no boundaries. The Frenchman decided to give a 180 degree turn to his sports career. Peugeot's re-entry to the Dakar Rally was an opportunity Despres could not miss. Having Carlos Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel as team-mates, Cyril debuted in the car category driving a Peugeot 2008 DKR.
A steady Dakar debut on four wheels was then backed up with a second-place finish at the 2015 China Silk Road Rally.
The runners-up result alongside co-driver David Castera boosted the duo’s confidence enough that they were able to make a significant leap up the rankings when they returned to the Dakar, finishing seventh overall in 2016.
Cyril’s rapid rise also saw him take the win at the 2016 Silk Way Rally. He returned to South America in 2017 to race alongside fellow Frenchman Castera in the PEUGEOT 3008 DKR, taking third spot overall – his first podium finish in a car.
"A good feeling. I didn't get on a Dakar podium for three years and when you like this race so much and train all year for that, it's a long time," he said after the close of Stage 12. "Obviously there are two big competitors in front of me. Peterhansel and Loeb aren't just a mountain, they're an Everest, the Himalayas in front of me. I will try to climb and train more."Read more