Rally Raid

Cyril Despres’ clean energy revolution is set to shake up the Dakar Rally

He's won five times on a bike, but now Cyril Despres is taking on his biggest Dakar challenge yet. It's all in the latest episode of Beyond the Ordinary.
Written by Tim Sturtridge
4 min readPublished on
Cyril Despres is heading back to the desert
© Flavien Duhamel/Red Bull Content Pool
For the last two decades, the end of each year has meant only one thing to Cyril Despres, the beginning of the Dakar Rally. The world’s toughest race takes place in the first weeks of January and it’s an event that the Frenchman has built his life around.
At the 2022 Dakar, it won’t just be the podium that Despres will be fighting for, but the very future of the sport that he loves. Despres will take his place at the start line in Saudi Arabia as part of the ambitious GEN Z project. The eventual aim of GEN Z is to enter and win the Dakar in a fully hydrogen-powered vehicle.
"We're so close now to racing 100 percent hydrogen-powered cars at the Dakar," says Cyril Despres. "The progress that is being made is mind-blowing. I can't wait to share it with the world."
Listen below to the latest instalment of the Beyond the Ordinary podcast series, which is all about Despres at the Dakar. Then read on for five takeaways from the episode covering the five-time Dakar winner.

1. Two weeks of racing, 50 weeks of preparation

“I used to take part in the Dakar on a motorcycle and I knew the exact details of how to train for that. You need strength in the legs and the arms also,” explains Despres. “But training for the car is different. You are fixed on a seat. Your neck is working a lot, and your arms are out in front of you on the steering wheel for eight hours a day.”
The physical and mental demands of the Dakar are unique. Despres credits his success to training hard. His performance coach Joel Laborde is helping him out with that all year round. We hear from Laborde in the podcast as he explains how he tailors his routines to ensure his client can meet the demands of the Dakar.
“The thing about Cyril is, he's very disciplined,” reveals Laborde. “He’s very focused when he’s doing something. So working with him is very easy.”

2. Keep your eyes on the road

Despres won the Dakar five times on a bike, finding his way through desert stages measuring up to 500km. Now he’s in a car and he has a co-driver giving him notes on the course. Despres will be paired with South African biker-turned-navigator Taye Perry at the upcoming Dakar.
“It took a while for me to stop looking at the roadbook,” explains Despres. “Then I eventually realised that it’s best for me to keep my eyes on the road when I’m driving across the desert at high speed. It’s better to stay focused on what’s happening out of the front window.”
Taye Perry and Cyril Despres seen at a test for the Dakar Rally in Treuel, Spain on November 22, 2021
Taye Perry teams up with Cyril Despres for 2022 Dakar Rally

3. Going with the flow to get to his first Dakar

Long before he was a multiple Dakar winner, Despres was just another biker desperate to take on the ultimate test of endurance racing. No factory teams had ever heard of him, and no sponsors were beating down his door to fund his first trip to the Dakar. It was time to get creative.
“When I decide with a friend that we would both try to go to the Dakar as amateur riders, we came up with a plan to pay for the trip,” remembers Despres. “We bought 6,000 bottles of wine and put a label on each bottle saying ‘please help us to make our dream come true’. We had to sell all those bottles to get the €30,000 that we needed to get to Dakar.”

4. An era defining rivalry

This episode of Beyond the Ordinary finally reveals the true feelings between Despres and Marc Coma. This duo won 10 consecutive editions of the Dakar bike race between them during an intense rivalry that lasted from 2005 to 2015. We hear how these Dakar titans pushed each other to greater heights.
“The relationship between two winners in the big races is sometimes not easy, but it’s part of the game,” says Coma. “He was my motivation and the reason why I wanted to be better every day.”
Marc Coma and Cyril Despres perform at Dakar 2013 Presentation Qatar Red Bull Rally Team in Paris, France on November 21, 2012.
Marc Coma and Cyril Despres
After 10 years of racing at the front of the Dakar bike race, I realised something. The guy that is looking the most like me is not my brother or my father, it was Marc Coma

5. The future is just beginning

Despres now returns to the world’s toughest rally with the groundbreaking hydrogen-powered GEN Z project. The Frenchman has raced the Dakar on four continents, but his passion for the rally remains undiminished. That is why he is so determined to play his part with GEN Z.
“Do I need to wait for somebody to show me the way to compete in the future? Or can I be one of the guys that help to get us to the future of motorsport,” explains Despres. “I’m not stupid. I love the technical and mechanical side of this race. So I started to explore in what direction we can take this thing.”
Listen to off-road racing’s clean energy revolution – Cyril Despres on Beyond the Ordinary from Red Bull, available on Apple, Spotify, Google or wherever you listen to your podcasts.