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Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Price is right for Toby again

One of Australia’s most popular sportsmen, Toby Price, has his sights set on more glory.

The Hunter-raised product, and former Singleton Sports Star of the Year, will return to the scene of his greatest triumphs next month when the Dakar Rally takes place between 3 and 15 January in Saudi Arabia.

The talented rider enjoyed success in 2016 and, again, in 2019 – claiming the crown in the bike category.

And, Oliver Pelling from the Red Bull Content Pool, recently caught up with the gifted 33-year-old.

Here’s what he discovered.

After a “quiet” season holed up in Australia, Price is raring to get back into the desert and compete.

Roughly 400km into the 2020 Dakar Rally, the two-time champ’s rear tyre fell off.

This isn’t something you’d want to happen at the best of times.

But, it’s especially inconvenient during a two-week event through the harshest desert Saudi Arabia has to offer.

While Price was unscathed, the freak incident resulted in the reigning titleholder giving up some 16 minutes to US rider Ricky Brabec – 16 minutes that, through the remaining 7000+ kilometres – he was never quite able to get back.

He ultimately placed third overall, 24 minutes behind the American.

Still, it was Price’s fifth time on the podium in as many attempts, and the stage was set for a dominant 2020 season for the off-road and enduro specialist.

And, then COVID-19 struck.

“It’s definitely been a strange year,” says Price from Queensland, where he’s been based for the past few months.

“For us, 2020 was supposed to be a busy season, like every season.

“We were getting ready for the rest of the World Championship rounds, and then the pandemic kicked off.

“We’ve all had a very, very quiet year.”

With most major (and minor) motorsports events cancelled and various travel bans and quarantine restrictions in place around the world, Price found himself home in Australia for longer than he has been at any point in his adult life.

However, far from getting gloomy about the situation, he’s passed the time by tinkering in his workshop, rebuilding bikes and engines for his mates, and spending quality time with his friends and family.

He even challenged MotoGP phenom and Red Bull stablemate, Jack Miller, to a race around the backyard.

While he’s missed racing and travelling, there have been some notable upsides to the downtime.

“There’s no place like home,” he says.

“There’s no place like Australia.”

In a typical year, Price would spend up to 80% on the road.

Missed birthdays, Christmases, Father’s and Mother’s days are all part of the trade-off he makes for his life as a professional motorbike racer.

“It’s tough,” he says.

“I miss a lot of the normal, everyday things.

“Even though you’re travelling the world doing fun things, you still miss a lot.

“So, being able to catch up on a lot of that this year has honestly been amazing.”

As January rolled in February and February into March, April, May, June and July, the promise of Dakar 2021 began to loom ever larger in Price’s mind.

He knew the call-up would probably be coming, he just didn’t know when.

When the all-clear eventually came through in August, he’d already been putting in the work to keep himself poised for another podium finish.

“I’ve been looking forward to this all year,” he says.

“We’re not taking any steps back, that’s for sure.

“We want to push bigger, do better and go faster.

“We want to win races.”

While preparing for an event like the Dakar requires a military-grade logistical operation (not least in the middle of a pandemic), Price reckons there’s only so much planning you can do to mentally and physically prepare you for the race itself.

“It’s really difficult to explain,” he says.

“But, as soon as you put that helmet on, and take off on that motorcycle, something just clicks.

“Like a light switch, it switches over, and we kick into full gas.”

While it might be tricky for Price to articulate his approach to Dakar-readiness, he knows exactly what it takes to be competitive over the two-week period: decision-making and consistency.

On any given day, there will be countless decisions to make.

Some will be made the morning or night before a specific stage, but the vast majority will be made on-the-fly, at speeds of up to 200km/h – and in a matter of milliseconds.

“You really need to process information as fast as possible,” he says.

“You need to be able to call everything right. Anything can happen, and you’ve just got to keep charging.”

And, Price will certainly be charging.

While he ended up winning the Dakar Rally in 2019 with a broken wrist, the downtime he’s had this year has enabled him to get completely healthy and focus on the task at hand – a luxury he hasn’t had for a hot minute.

Even though he admits that Brabec now has “the target on his back”, Price isn’t concerned about meeting expectations or fitting anyone else’s idea of how he should perform.

“I’ve been through a fair bit in my career,” he says.

“And, I know that I can do anything I set my mind to.

“I’m not cocky about it – it’s never good to be cocky.

“But, I’m confident in myself, and in my team, and I know what I’m capable of on a motorbike.”

Price flew out to Spain where he spent three months training and preparing for Dakar, before heading to Dubai for Christmas, and Saudi Arabia for the race in January.

“It’s been a bad year in many respects, but a good year in others,” he says.

“We’re just excited for what next year’s going to bring for us.”