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Veteran rider Goncalves dies in Dakar accident

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Veteran rider Goncalves dies in Dakar accident
By:
Co-author: Valentin Khorounzhiy
Jan 12, 2020, 9:37 AM

Veteran Dakar Rally rider Paulo Goncalves has passed away following a crash on Sunday's seventh stage of the 2020 event in Saudi Arabia.

Goncalves, 40, was contesting his 13th Dakar for Indian manufacturer Hero, and was lying 46th overall as the rally resumed following Saturday's rest day.

During Sunday's 546km Riyadh-Wadi Al Dawasir test, the Portuguese rider suffered a crash at the 276km mark at 10.16am local time. A medical helicopter was dispatched, and Goncalves was found unconscious having gone into cardiac arrest.

He was airlifted to Layla Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He is the first competitor to have died contesting the Dakar since Michal Hernik in 2015.

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Paulo Goncalves, 1979-2020

Goncalves won numerous motocross and enduro titles in his native Portugal either side of the turn of the century, and made his Dakar debut in 2006, finishing 25th on his first attempt.

Cross-country competition soon became his primary focus, and he broke into the Dakar top 10 by 2009, in the first South America-based edition of the marathon.

Two years later, having swapped a Honda for a BMW, he ended a decade-long stage win drought for the Bavarian marque, but ended up dropping out of the marathon through injury.

In 2012, he was now riding under the banner of the then-BMW owned Husqvarna, but his hopes a career-best Dakar finish were dashed by a six-hour penalty for receiving outside assistance, something the team ardently denied.

The year after, he repeated his best finish of 10th in the Dakar, but also clinched the FIM Cross-Country world championship for Speedbrain – the German organisation that had operated Husqvarna’s programme before the brand’s acquisition by KTM.

Ahead of the 2014 Dakar, Goncalves and his long-time teammate Joan Barreda followed Speedbrain into the fold of Japanese manufacturer Honda. But the Portuguese rider’s first rodeo with Honda ended in disappointment, his bike burning up on the fifth stage.

But the rest of the year brought a good season in the Cross-Country world championship, with an Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge win proving the highlight, before Goncalves mounted his first proper challenge for Dakar victory in 2015.

Goncalves headed Honda’s efforts, finishing as runner-up to Dakar legend Marc Coma and staking a claim to one of the main threats to Austrian manufacturer KTM’s unbeaten streak in the legendary marathon.

He looked on the cusp of doing so in 2016, leading the event into the rest day, only for a combination of a crash, a mechanical issue and a hefty penalty to put paid to his aspirations. He only finished sixth the year after, and skipped the 2018 Dakar entirely after an ill-timed training accident left him with a shoulder injury.

Late in 2018, Goncalves crashed in national competition and suffered a fractured spleen that required surgery, but he recovered sufficiently in time for the 2019 Dakar. Yet his time with Honda in the legendary race would come to a low-key end as he crashed out just five days into the event.

By then Speedbrain was working with Indian manufacturer Hero, and for 2020 it pulled off a coup by reuniting with Goncalves, who joined the developing project to spearhead its roster alongside his brother-in-law Joaquim Rodriguez.

Admitting he sought “extra motivation” from the switch, Goncalves was encouraged by outings in Morocco and the Silk Way Rally, and finished in the top 10 for three successive days prior to the mid-rally rest day, before tragically losing his life after the competition resumed.

Motorsport.com would like to extend its condolences to Goncalves' friends and family, the Hero team and the entire Dakar fraternity at this difficult time.
Warning: The below video shows footage from today's stage, including the aftermath of the tragic crash and the highly emotional reaction of the riders, as well as a statement from organisers and a tribute to Goncalves...

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About this article

Series Dakar
Event Dakar
Drivers Paulo Goncalves
Author Sergio Lillo