Dakar veteran Paulo Gonçalves has sadly died following a crash during stage seven of this year’s event. He was 40-years-old.
A statement on the Dakar website said: “Paulo Gonçalves, racing on motorbike no. 8, has passed away from a fall sustained 276 kilometres into today's special. The organisers received an alert at 10:08 and dispatched a medical helicopter that reached the biker at 10:16 and found him unconscious after going into cardiac arrest. Following resuscitation efforts in situ, the competitor was taken by helicopter to Layla Hospital, where he was sadly pronounced dead.”
Yesterday’s stage followed a rest day in the capital, capital Riyadh, and featured the longest timed special, at 546 kilometres, which took competitors to Wadi al-Dawasir. Despite proving a consistent top 15 finisher, Gonçalves had entered stage seven in 46th place overall after engine failure in Tuesday’s stage three hampered his race.
Epitomizing the spirit of the Dakar, he waited for another competitor to deliver a spare engine and replaced his in the middle of the desert, before riding through the night to finish the stage last, 6 hours and 36 minutes after stage winner Ricky Brabec. Despite spending more than 11 hours on the stage, the following day an exhausted Gonçalves went on to finish fourth, proving his metal and sheer riding ability. It was this riding ability, and his penchant for high speeds, that earned him the sobriquet ‘Speedy Gonçalves’.
Born on 5th February 1979, in Gemeses, a small parish nearby to Esposende, Gonçalves was a popular figure in the Dakar bivouac. Since making his debut in 2006, he had contested 13 editions of the rally, across its three chapters – Africa, South America and, for the first time this year, Saudi Arabia. Notably, he finished in second place to Marc Coma in the 2015 race.
During his career, the accomplished rider also accumulated 23 titles in motocross, supercross and enduro. In 2013, he won the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, before finishing as runner-up in 2014.
Tributes have poured in from across the motorsport and wider world, with President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, stating that he “died trying to achieve the dream of winning one of the hardest and most dangerous rally events in the world, in the which has always been a worthy representative of Portugal, reaching second place in 2015.”
Competitors and organisers will join together to pay their respects to the fallen rider at tonight’s briefing.
The Portugese rider reportedly lost control of his Hero and fell at kilometre 276 of Sunday’s stage seven. He was found unconscious by fellow rider Australian Toby Price, who along with Gonçalves former teammate, Kevin Benavides, tried in vain to help.
Price later posted a tribute to the 40-year-old on his Instagram account. Out of respect, today’s motorcycle and quads category has been cancelled.