Portuguese motorbike rider Paulo Goncalves has died after a crash in the Dakar Rally on Sunday, the 40-year-old becoming the motorsport marathon’s 25th fatality.
The fatal crash occurred 276km into the seventh stage from Riyadh to Wadi al-Dawasir.
“The organizers received an alert at 10:08am and dispatched a medical helicopter that reached the biker at 10:16am and found him unconscious after going into cardiac arrest,” a statement on the rally’s official Web site reported. “Following resuscitation efforts in situ, the competitor was taken by helicopter to Layla Hospital, where he was sadly pronounced dead.”
Dakar director David Castera said that it was Australian defending bike champion Toby Price who was the first to discover the stricken Goncalves lying on the sand.
Goncalves was competing in his 13th edition of the Dakar. He made his debut in 2006, when it was staged in Africa, and took second to Marc Coma in 2015 in South America.
“Paulo was someone who had been around for a long time, who we all knew, who was a feature of the rally,” Castera said. “So this is a very difficult time.”
The Indian-backed Hero Motosports rider only made it to this year’s first Dakar staged in Saudi Arabia after recovering from a ruptured spleen in a crash in his native Portugal last month.
Following surgery before the rally got under way, he said: “It’s a victory for me to be here at the start.”
Goncalves was placed 46th in the overall bike standings after Friday’s sixth stage.
His death cast a pall over the seventh stage, won by Carlos Sainz in a Mini.
The previous Dakar competitor to be killed was Polish rider Michal Hernik in 2015 in Argentina.
With 20 of the 25 Dakar deaths since the inaugural edition in 1979 made up of bike riders, Castera dwelt on the risks they face.
“We know that bikes are dangerous. You set off in the morning, you have a knot in your stomach sometimes, because you don’t have any protection, you have nothing,” said Castera, a veteran of five Dakars on a motorbike. “They all know that, these riders.”
Stephane Peterhansel, who counts six bike wins among his 13 Dakar titles, said: “I always felt I was playing with fire on a bike, I ended my bike career very young and saw friends die in front of me.”
“When we passed [the scene of the crash], I had a really bad feeling,” he said. “When you see all the medical officers busy, a survival blanket over the rider, you know something terrible has happened.”
Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa in an official statement said that Goncalves had died “attempting to accomplish the dream of winning one of the most dangerous and toughest rallies in the world.”
He described him as “a highly distinguished” sporting ambassador for Portugal while Portuguese MotoGP rider Miguel Oliveira paid tribute to Goncalves’ “courage and bravery.”
Two-time former Formula One champion Fernando Alonso, making his Dakar debut, said: “This sport is extreme ... mechanical sports can never be 100 percent safe.”
Yesterday’s motorcycle action on the eighth stage in and around Wadi al-Dawasir was canceled “to give the riders time to mourn their friend,” organizers said.
On a sombre day in the desert, Sainz tightened his grip on the overall car standings with his third stage win of this year’s edition.
American Ricky Brabec retained his overall bike lead finishing fifth on Sunday behind Kevin Benavides.
Joan Barreda was initially marked down as the day’s winner, but Benavides was awarded back time he had spent attending Goncalves, as was Price.
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