Three-time Dakar Rally champion, Frenchman Cyril Despres, has visited and competed in some of the harshest and most spectacular terrains in the world.
So it was strange - and a little surreal - that his preparation for this week's gruelling Australasian Safari should include snorkelling with sea lions off Rottnest Island.
Despres, who won Brazil's Rally dos Sertoes last month, is on his first visit to Australia and is determined to return with his family for a holiday.
"It was fantastic . . . swimming with sea lions . . . it was unbelievable," he said yesterday.
"Cycling is part of my training for competition, so I felt a real connection here since bicycle is the main mode of transport around the island."
The eight-day 4000km safari begins today, with overnight stops in Geraldton, Mt Magnet, Sandstone, Laverton and Leonora before the race finishes in Kalgoorlie.
Despres is expected to face tough competition in the rally's motorbike division.V8 Supercar champion Craig Lowndes will return to defend his title after winning last year's car division in his first off-road event.