Alonso felt “frozen” as Dakar competitors react to fatal crash

Competitors in the Dakar Rally have given their reactions to the death of veteran bike rider Paulo Goncalves, who passed away following a crash on Sunday’s seventh stage of the Saudi Arabian endurance event.

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.

Fernando Alonso, the two-time Formula 1 world champion who is making his Dakar debut this year, said he felt “frozen” when he heard the news officially when he arrived at the camp.

“You stay frozen,” Alonso told reporters at the bivouac. “More than anything because you are confirming it to me now. There were some rumours when we reached the finish line, but we have no contact with anyone.

“It seems that one of the commissioners had said something, but Marc [Coma, his co-driver] could not confirm it either, and now that it’s confirmed, that’s when you’re freezing. They’re the same people who are here with you competing in the race for passion, for wanting to do it right. That these things happen, it leaves you totally unwilling to speak [about] anything else.

“In all races it is the same, it is very difficult to turn the page. In the end this is a sport, and it is part of our career, of our passion. Life is above anything, and not for being the Dakar or being a race. It’s hard to accept it and turn the page.”

Stage winner and event leader Carlos Sainz added: “The first thing is that it is a sad day for the Dakar, you have a bad taste when you finish. We had seen that something serious had happened when passing through that place – I send a big hug to Paulo’s whole family.”

The director of the Dakar, David Castera, announced that the end of the day briefing would become a tribute to Goncalves, after which the decision was made to cancel Monday’s stage for motorbikes and quads.

“These are very difficult times,” said Castera. “We are here to live the opposite: to dream, enjoy and see happy people… and now we have to live the worst of times.

“We all know that the motorcycle is dangerous. I have done five Dakars on a motorcycle and when you go out in the morning, you sometimes have a knot in your stomach, because you have no protection, you have nothing. And everyone knows that.

“Paulo was a professional who knew the risks. It is sport, this sport is dangerous and we know it. Obviously we cannot have the same speech as other days [in the briefing]. It will be above all a tribute to Paulo that I want to pay in front of everyone. We will do it all together.”

Ricky Brabec, current leader of the Dakar’s bike section, was one of the few motorcycle riders who spoke to the press when he arrived at the camp: “We all know that motorcycles are a dangerous sport, you never know what can happen. Unfortunately today we have lost one of our partners, Paulo Goncalves, and there is little to talk about. It is a very sad day for the industry and for the bivouac. We will pray for your family and it is the only thing we can do.

“My position right now doesn’t really matter. I think the loss of someone who was very close is what really matters. There is much more life than the position I am in and we send our condolences to his family.”

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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