Sport

Dakar Rally winner Toby Price on the thrill of racing and the pain of broken bones. By Richard Cooke.
Credit: KTM FACTORY RED BULL RALLY RACING TEAM

Wild ride: Toby Price, 28, off-road motorcycle racer

I guess I’m just a bit of a thrillseeker. I love that adrenalin pumping through the body and the Dakar Rally is the ultimate challenge, mentally and physically. 

The best adventure you could ever possibly go on on a motorcycle? Dakar’s your race. To be a part of that history of Dakar is something pretty special. 

The Dakar Rally is literally torture. It’s two weeks of racing. From Argentina and then into Bolivia and back to Argentina this year. We cover nine to nine-and-a-half thousand kilometres. It’s not an easy road and it’s not smooth, it’s hard highways that get to you each day. It’s extremely difficult to finish each day and then very, very difficult to get to the finish line.

I didn’t know if I had that in me. But this year we really showed that we were strong and our navigation was really good. We’ve come away with the win, and became the first Aussie to do it.

I’m lucky to see the countryside on a motorcycle. A normal car really can’t get into these places and it needs to be a race car or a race truck. All the canyons and all these little riverbeds; it’s quite amazing. An amazing experience, and an amazing race. But it’s definitely challenging on the body, that’s for sure.

So many people come out to watch the race. You can be out in the middle of nowhere, and all of a sudden you come around this turn and then there’s thousands of people all just lining the track and cheering you on. Just to see you go past once for no more than 15 seconds. And that’s their day done, seeing you go by. That’s the biggest part for me and, yeah, to go through these awesome villages and places.

The racers are on our own a little bit. We start at individual times. There could be a day that you don’t come across anybody and you’re alone the whole day. At the end of the day we get to hang out, have a bit of a chat about how the day went and have a good old yarn. But you can kind of feel like a robot for two weeks. 

You’re getting about three hours’ sleep a night. So it’s extremely hard. To try to keep your head switched on for that amount of time for two weeks really, really drains you. We’ve got to do it all ourselves; we’ve got to ride the motorcycle, make the navigation call, be a mechanic, all that stuff. It’s pretty damned insane.

I’ve had Casey Stoner, Chad Reed, Troy Bayliss, Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo contact me. Never in my wildest dreams would I ever have thought guys like them would have been talking to me and congratulating me for what I’m doing.

What now? We’ve got to work twice as hard. It just definitely got a lot harder. Now we’ve got to try and back this up. It never ends – if we get one, we always want two, and if we get two, we want three. We’ve just got to put the hard work in behind the scenes, and then we’ll see what the event brings for us in the next few years.

I’m 28 years of age and I’ve had 27 broken bones. It’s not a really good average to have by the sounds of it; it’s almost one for each year. It’s normal you have three, four, five good years and then you have one big getoff and you break a lot of bones in one hit, so it all catches up to you.

I’m not really looking forward to being 89 years old. I think I’m going to be full of arthritis and in a wheelchair, but, hey, at least I’ve had a crack at life. I know I’ve done what I’ve wanted to do and enjoyed it and tried the best I could.

Which break hurt the most? Surprisingly, after breaking my neck, it’s the femur in my leg. I can remember that one as plain as day. Look, they’re all painful. They’re never fun, that’s for sure.

I went from pretty much the lowest low that I could possibly be at after the neck injury to now. On top of the world. I still can’t process quite what I’ve done just yet.

Letting the mind drift is a dangerous thing. As soon as you start thinking of other things, bits and pieces like that, it can catch you out very quickly. The mind’s pretty powerful.

I grew up way out west on a pretty big property. Forty-three thousand acres, so there were plenty of places to learn how to ride a motorcycle. I started riding around two-and-a-half or three years of age. I started racing at four. My parents sacrificed and took me all around the countryside doing events and competing.

The support from my team has been absolutely amazing. KTM Factory Red Bull Rally Racing Team has been in my corner for about six years now. It’s opened doors to a lot of things. And, yeah, it’s definitely been an amazing ride with some hard times on the way.

This week’s highlights…

• Rugby league: Auckland Nines

Saturday and Sunday, Eden Park, Auckland

• Cricket: Australia v New Zealand, 2nd ODI

Saturday, noon (AEDT), Wellington Regional Stadium, New Zealand

• Soccer: A-League – Brisbane Roar v Central Coast Mariners

Saturday, 4.15pm (AEST), Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

• American Football: Super Bowl 50 – Carolina Panthers v Denver Broncos

Monday, 10.30am (AEDT), Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California

• Tennis: Fed Cup – Australia v Slovakia

Saturday, from 11.59pm (AEDT); Sunday, from 11pm, Bratislava, Slovakia

• Cricket: Southern Stars v India, 3rd ODI

Sunday, 2.20pm (AEDT), Blundstone Arena, Hobart

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 6, 2016 as "Wild ride". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.