WADI AL-DAWASIR, Saudi Arabia – The eighth stage of the 2020 Dakar Rally in the bikes and quads categories initially scheduled for Monday has been canceled after the death of Portuguese motorcycle racer Paulo Gonçalves in an accident during stage seven, race organizers said Sunday.
“After meeting the riders and making a decision together with the entire motorbike family, the organizers 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,” Dakar Rally organizers said in a statement.
The 40-year-old racer went off his bike at a high speed at the 263-kilometer mark between the Saudi capital of Riyadh and Wadi Al Dawasir in what was the longest stage in this year’s edition of the offroad race.
The Portuguese racer was making his 13th appearance in what is often regarded as the toughest rally in the world, but it was the first time he competed with Indian motorcycle brand Hero, having previously competed on Honda motorcycles, a Japanese brand.
Many bike and quad racers said they were unable to concentrate during the 250 kilometers remaining in the seventh stage after seeing Gonçalves lying on the ground.
Paramedics arrived at the scene of the crash and tried to resuscitate the racer before he was airlifted to Lalya Hospital, near the capital, where he was pronounced dead.
Dakar Rally organizers said he died from cardiac arrest.
This marked the first death of a Dakar Rally participant in five years. The last fatality was Polish motorcyclist Michal Hernik, who died of dehydration.
Only car, SSV and truck races will be held on Monday.
Monday’s 716-kilometer stage consists of a loop starting and ending in Wadi al-Dawasir, an enclave within Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter, a desert that sprawls over 650,000 sq. kilometers in the southern part of the country and is virtually uninhabited.
The 2020 Dakar Rally is being held entirely within Saudi Arabia, with the 12 stages from Jeddah to Qiddiya being run Jan. 5-17.