“No steps back”: Toby Price is full-throttle for Dakar 2021
After a “quiet” 2020 season holed up in Australia, two-time Dakar champ Toby Price is raring to get back into the desert and compete.
By Oliver Pelling Published on 09/06/2020 · 10:46 PM PDT
Roughly 400 kilometres into the 2020 Dakar rally, Toby Price’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 rally raid through the harshest desert Saudi Arabia has to offer.While Price was unscathed, the freak incident resulted in the reigning Dakar champ (and two-time winner) giving up some 16 minutes to American Ricky Brabec – 16 minutes that, through the remaining 7000+ kilometres – he was never quite able to get back. Price ultimately came third overall, 24 minutes behind Brabec. 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 the pandemic happened.
“It’s definitely been a strange year,” Price says over a crackly phone line as he drives back from a content shoot in Queensland, Australia, 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.”
I’ve been looking forward to this all year. 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 racesToby Price
With most major (and minor) motorsports events cancelled and various travel bans and quarantine restrictions in place around the world, Price found himself back home in Australia for longer than he has been at any point in his adult life. But 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% (his estimation, not mine) 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. So when the all-clear 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 a race like the Dakar requires a military-grade logistical operation (you cannot underestimate the level of effort, planning and foresight required to ship an entire team and their gear to a desert halfway across the world – 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.”
I know that I can do anything I set my mind to. I’m confident in myself, and in my team, and I know what I’m capable of on a motorbike.Toby Price
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 2019 with a broken wrist (“It felt like it was on fire, like somebody was driving knives into my wrist,” he said after the fact), 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. And while 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.” From here, Price will fly out to Spain where he’ll spend three months training and preparing for the 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.”