Just starting the Dakar Rally requires immense courage. This hellish race bypasses death. Especially the motorcycle category. Riders in one track are the most vulnerable.
One of the victims of the Dakar is the Portuguese motorcyclist Paulo Goncalves (in the picture his body is covered at the scene of the accident).
| Photo: ČTK/AP
Since the first year in the late seventies of the last century, almost three dozen competitors have died, and the vast majority of them were motorcyclists. They were dying in Africa, South America and, in recent years, in the Arabian Peninsula. According to statistics, he was Spaniard Carles Falcón is the twenty-second victim on a motorcycle in this year’s 46th edition.
The Dakar Rally is cruel in this regard. The aforementioned Falcón crashed on January 8. Although he was immediately airlifted to the nearest hospital, he succumbed to extensive injuries despite thorough care. According to the medical report, he suffered a fractured vertebra, five ribs, left wrist and collarbone. But his brain swelling became fatal.
In South America, he warmed to the riders from the factory teams. At the premiere in 2015, he took the twentieth place and was second among newcomers. Two years later, he climbed to a great eleventh place, but he was also affected by two serious accidents. In 2016, he caught his rear wheel on a rock, flew over the handlebars and after a terrible fall broke his pelvis and ribs, dislocated his hip, injured his spleen and suffered a pneumothorax. He got knocked around, but in the next even year it was more serious. He suddenly flew out of the saddle, had to be intubated in the desert, and operated on two broken vertebrae in Lima. He had compression fractures of his thoracic and cervical spine and swelling on his bruised lung. In a Peruvian hospital, they kept him in artificial sleep for a long time, and only after a month was he able to be transported. Treatment continued at Na Homolce Hospital in Prague. You could say he was born a second time, and he admits that he was lucky. “When the second vertebra is fractured, the spinal cord is often damaged. I am also grateful to my coach for being alive. Thanks to him, I was in great physical shape and my body was full of muscle. That helped me,” he told Deník in an interview six years ago. No wonder he rejected another motorcycle career. He was also prompted by the death of Paolo Goncalves at the 2020 Dakar, where he was acting as team manager. “This desert adventure is a closed chapter for me,” he stated, not sparing criticism of the ASO organizing team. Finally, he returned to Dakar. But only in the additional Classic category for historic cars. This year he rode it for the fourth time and apparently for the last time.
“Carles was a smiling and always active person. He passionately enjoyed anything related to motorcycles, racing in the Dakar was his dream. He was happy on the bike, so we should remember him for his smile and the happiness he brought to everyone,” Falcón’s TwinTrail Racing team said.
Similar obituaries from Dakar Rally are always repeated after some time. So far, misfortune has not touched Czech motorcyclists, even though many of them experienced blood-curdling situations in the deserts.
The former World Champion in Freestyle Motocross rode the Dakar for the third time this year. While he finished in 31st place in 2021, he crashed in the very first stage last year and broke two thoracic vertebrae. This year he wanted to show speed in the category without Original by Motul assistance and fight for the top position. But instead, he battled a series of inconveniences and reached the finish line only thanks to his resilience. And he wasn’t far from the truth when he described his performance as a fight for survival. What happened to Podmola? In the beginning, he was hit in the hand by a rock from an opponent and his glove bled. In the third stage, he fell headfirst on a rock. The medics from the helicopter called in on the track stitched up the gash above his eye with nine stitches. But his wound swelled and he could not see three stages with one eye. After another car accident with a sprain in his hand, he was repairing the motorcycle in the dark… He finished in 53rd place overall, in the category of riders without a mechanic, he was eighth. “In two weeks, my body became stronger than ever. But I have experienced incredible stories, and no one will take them away from me,” he said. He failed to achieve his sporting goal, but he can be glad to have returned alive. In addition, with an award from competition director David Castera for courage and will.
He fulfilled his promise to his father, who killed himself in Dakar
He won the Dakar rally on a motorcycle twice. In 2005, the well-known Italian Fabrizio Meoni was supposed to start for the last time, but he did not reach the finish line. He broke his neck in the crash, and hours of CPR didn’t help. He killed himself in Africa at the thirteenth start. Even before leaving for the New Year’s Eve start in Barcelona, the KTM factory rider and his son Gioel promised that they would ride the Dakar together one day.
Unfortunately, they were not lucky, but Gioele succeeded his father this year – 22 years after Fabrizio’s last victory. Young Meoni originally rode motocross and enduro. But ten years ago, he decided to devote himself properly to his studies and gave up riding. But the old promise kept coming to his mind. “I felt that I could not fail to fulfill him,” admitted Gioele Meoni.
The current Czech number one finished tenth a week ago, just like in 2021, equaling the Czech record for the second time, which was set by Stanislav Zloch in Africa in 1998. Even Jihočech endured pain after injury and rough moments with illness, so it is almost a miracle that he kept the elite ten and finished the rough marathon in Saudi Arabia at all. First, on the sandy plain, he missed a cliff and almost sprained his wrist after a hard impact. With a sore limb, he completed the two-stage Chrono48. “The hand makes me angry enough. She is very swollen. At times I had thoughts about whether I should continue at all,” he admitted. At the same time, he was suffering from a virus for several days. “I’m sick, he had chills and a fever,” described Michek, who after finishing the ninth stage swallowed his pills and immediately went to bed. When he awoke in the evening, he was not refreshed by sleep. He had to spend the night separately so as not to infect his colleagues from the Orion-Moto Racing Group team. The discomfort affected him even in the last stage. “I had a hot moment there, a stoner kicked me and sent me into a rocky field. I broke my mouth, my vest burst and I landed on my weakened arm,” he described the carom, but there wasn’t much left to the finish line…
He started driving again, but the long pause was noticeable. Even so, he signed up for this year’s Dakar, but at home he had to promise to drive carefully so that the tragedy would not happen again. At the same time, it was necessary to convince the director of the Dakar Rally, David Caster, to allow him to start. He initially rejected his application due to his lack of experience with desert launches.
Gioele Meoni managed to get sponsors and took part in the challenging Original by Motul category for unassisted riders. In the end, he finished in a great sixth place and could send his dad a message to heaven.
However, the story does not end there. His machine will be auctioned and the profit, together with the collection from the fans, will be given to the Fabrizio Meoni Foundation, which will build a school in the Senegalese capital thanks to the selected funds.
Death in a helicopter
The most famous tragic story on the Dakar Rally is death of its founder. Thierry Sabine, who was a motorcycle and car racer, invented, founded and organized this crazy motor competition until the last moment of his life on the African continent.
He won several races, twice drove the 24 hours of Le Mans, but the African competition Abidjan-Nice changed his life. In the course of it, Sabine got lost on his motorcycle in 1977. He staggered through the Ténéré desert for three days without food or drink, but was eventually discovered by a rescue plane.
Terrorist act in Dakar. There was a bomb under the pedals, the rally is in danger
“That’s when I understood how meaningless life is,” he later recalled. “Wandering, I thought I could go back to that sea of sand and conquer it one day,” he said of how the idea of setting up an adventure the world had never known was born.
The year was 1986. The Dakar convoy was moving through Mali. No one will know exactly why the helicopter with the director of the competition on board took off after seven in the evening in the falling darkness and sandstorm. The strange thing is that it was Sabine who was opposed to flying in the dark, and a few minutes before departure the crew confirmed by radio that they were waiting for an evacuation vehicle…
On a motorcycle, he managed the Dakar Rally for the fourteenth time – the first time in 2007, when it was last held in Africa. He is the Czech record holder in this direction. His best result is 18th in 2014 and apart from the year before last when he had to withdraw due to covid, he has always finished the Dakar. Similar to Podmol, he started this year in Original by Motul, but he didn’t have nearly as many troubles. He crossed the finish line in 42nd position and was fourth among drivers without assistance. Pabiška is a motorcycle holder and commuter. But when he sees his opponent on the edge, he always stops. At the Dakar in 2013, he helped a lying Italian competitor. He called a helicopter and waited with the seriously injured rider until it arrived. Even then – regardless of his result – he assisted in its loading. Ten years ago, he received the Czech Club fair play award for this. “Helping others is automatic. I just hope that if something ever happens to me, someone will help me too,” he said. The biker knight has more similar awards for selfless help. He doesn’t often get into trouble himself, but two years later he too was freed from the trap. He had a concussion after the fall, and the four-kilometer altitude contributed to his weakness. At that time, Mira Stanovnik from Slovenia came to Cech and took him to the finish line. In the bivouac, the medics put Pabiška in a pile and he finished in an excellent 24th place overall.
Crashing into a lonely dune was fatal for the crew. The helicopter was torn to pieces by the impact, and the debris flew in a radius of several hundred meters. The charismatic Frenchman (along with five other people) died at only thirty-six years old. A simple stone memorial was later erected at the site of the accident. I am standing next to an acacia that has been named Thierry Sabine’s Tree.
The paradox is that two days before Sabine gave an interview to the Radio Niger station, in which he stated, among other things, that he would like to prove two more things in life: to show his daughter Africa and to die somewhere in the desert. His words were tragically fulfilled two days later.
Motorcycle victims of the Dakar
1979 – Patrick Dodin (Fr.)
1982 – Bert Osterhuis (Netherlands)
1983 – Jean-Noël Pineau (Fr.)
1986 – Giampaolo Marinoni (It.), Jasuo Kaneko (Japan)
1988 – Jean-Claude Huger (Fr.)
1992 – Gilles Lalay (Fr.)
1994 – Michel Sansen (Bel.)
1997 – Jean-Pierre Leduc (Fr.)
2005 – José Manuel Pérez (Sp.), Fabrizio Meoni (It.)
2006 – Andy Caldecott (Aust.)
2007 – Elmer Symons (JAR), Erik Aubijoux (Fr.)
2009 – Pascal Terry (Fr.)
2012 – Jorge Martínez Boero (Arg.)
2013 – Thomas Bourgin (Fr.)
2014 – Eric Palante (Bel.)
2015 – Michal Hernik (Poland)
2020 – Paulo Goncalves (Port.), Edwin Straver (Netherlands)
2024 – Carles Falcón (Spain)