World News

Portuguese motorbike rider dies during race across Saudi Arabia

Posted January 12, 2020 12:48 p.m. EST

— Portuguese motorbike rider Paulo Gonçalves died Sunday after a crash in the Dakar Rally, a race across Saudi Arabia.

Gonçalves' fall came 276 kilometers into the day's stage, which took competitors from Riyadh to Wadi Al Dawasir in Saudi Arabia's desert during the two-week race.

Race organizers got an alert at 10:08 a.m. and dispatched a medical helicopter that reached him eight minutes later, the Dakar Rally said. Emergency responders found him unconscious after he went into cardiac arrest, and he was taken by helicopter to Layla Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Competitors Kevin Benavides and Toby Price tried to assist Gonçalves, the Dakar Rally said.

Gonçalves, 40, was racing in his 13th Dakar Rally. He made his debut in 2006 and had finished in the top 10 four times, the Dakar Rally said, including as a runner-up in 2015. This was the first Dakar Rally to take place in Saudi Arabia, which meant a new challenge for every racer.

"It's going to be a big experience for sure," Gonçalves said before the race, according to his online biography. "I think 98% of riders have never raced there before, so it's a big challenge for everybody."

The Dakar Rally canceled Monday's stage.

"Paulo, a beloved figure of the rally, was immensely respected by both veterans and less experienced competitors who admired and were inspired by him," the group said.

"After meeting the riders and making a decision together with the entire motorbike family, the organisers have decided to cancel stage 8 for the motorbikes and quads category, which was supposed to take place on a loop course around Wadi Al-Dawasir, in order to give the riders time to mourn their friend."

The Dakar began in December 1978 and took racers from Paris through the Sahara Desert and to Dakar, Senegal. It was in Europe and Africa until 2009, when it moved to South America for a decade after fears of terrorism.

Fellow bikers and motorcycle racers expressed sadness on Twitter.

"Everyone at Dorna Sports and the whole MotoGP community would like to send their condolences to Paulo's family, friends and the wider Dakar community," Grand Prix motorcycle racing tweeted.

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