HUNTER rider Toby Price will return to a hero’s welcome in Australia after becoming the first non-European to win the Dakar Rally motorcycle division.
Price finished fourth on the 13th and final stage of the world’s toughest off-road race to easily finish top of the overall bike standings.
The 28-year-old from Aberglasslyn started the day more than 37 minutes in front and finished the 180-kilometre stage to Rosario in Argentina in 1:55:49 to extend his lead by more than two minutes and win the bikes section by 39:41.
"I don't know what to say, I don't know what to think. I'm in shock,” Price said after taking the chequered flag.
“I never would've thought I could win this race in my second participation.
“This is incredible for my family, my friends and my fans back in Australia.
“Winning in my second participation is awesome, but being the first Australian to win the Dakar is just insane.
“I would've never imagined this two years ago. Finishing the rally is already a triumph. Winning it is amazing.
“I tackled the race in true Aussie style.
“I attacked when I had to, when the time was right, and I kept an eye on my bike during the all-important marathon stages.
“I also navigated rather well. I hope this is just the start, to win again.
“It won't be easy, so I've got to savour this victory."
As a privateer last year, Price was third on debut to equal the best effort by an Australian rider in the history of the rally, which was first held in 1979.
He earned a deal with the dominant Australian KTM factory team, which has now won the past 15 Dakars, and he dominated the 2016 edition with five stage wins.
Like most Dakar racers, Price’s journey to the top of the podium is littered with tales of serious injury.
He broke his neck in a crash in California’s Mojave Desert in 2013 which led to six weeks in traction and seven months of rehabilitation.
In June last year a stick speared through his boot at 130km/h while he was training for the prestigious Finke Desert Race, causing torn ankle ligaments.
He won the Finke anyway – for the fourth time – but still walks with a limp.
He has won five Australian Off-Road Championships since shifting from motocross in 2009, but his win at Dakar dwarfs any of his previous achievements and will make him a superstar of world motor sport.
He earned his place with KTM after the retirement of five-time Dakar winner Spaniard Marc Coma and exceeded the team’s expectations by winning easily – if anything at the Dakar can be described as easy – at just his second try.
He is only the 12th motorcycle winner in 37 years of the Dakar.