Portuguese motorcyclist and 13-time Dakar entrant Paulo Gonçalves, 40, has died as a result of injuries sustained in a fall 276 kilometers into today’s stage of the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia.
According to Motorsport.com, Gonçalves, who was riding for Indian motorcycle maker Hero this year, reportedly fell from his bike and was found unconscious after entering cardiac arrest at 10:16 AM local time. A medevac was dispatched and, following efforts to resuscitate him, Gonçalves was airlifted to Layla Hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
Gonçalves is the first Dakar entrant to die competing in the race since 2015 when Polish rider Michal Henrik lost his life in a crash in Chile.
Gonçalves was a Dakar veteran whose first entry into the field was back in 2006 when the rally was still actually being run between Paris and the Senegalese capital. First riding for BMW, then Husqvarna, and then Honda before linking up with Hero, Gonçalves managed two tenth-place finishes, first in 2012 and then again the next year. In a race like Dakar, just competing 13 times is an accomplishment. Those top-ten finishes are awful impressive by anyone’s standard.
You might remember Gonçalves from a dramatic episode during the 2016 race where he brushed off what appeared to be a rather serious crash and kept on riding. It’s no wonder that this year the Dakar organizers dubbed him a Dakar Legend.
Gonçalves’s death is a reminder of just how grueling competition in long-distance off-road rallying can be on the bodies of those competing. In addition to the difficult terrain and other implicit dangers that off-road racers face, the long distances and arid climate of this race pose unique threats to competitors as well.
UPDATED: Sunday, January 12, 2019, 12:15 PM: Dakar organizers ASO have announced that Stage 8, which will be run tomorrow, has been canceled for the motorcycle and quad classes in order to give the riders and teams an opportunity to mourn Gonçalves.