There’s a reason why Paulo Goncalves is nicknamed “Speedy”. One look at his CV and you will see a number of impressive achievements by the Portuguese rider including various Motocross National championships and his runner-up finish at the 2015 Dakar Rally.
And at 38-years-old, the Monster Energy Honda man is showing no signs of stepping off the gas and remains as eager as ever to add to his ever-growing trophy cabinet.
Fully recovered from his sixth-place finish at the Dakar Rally in January, he begins his quest for his second FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship with today’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
Standing in his way are 27 other strong competitors including current Dakar Rally champion Sam Sunderland and last season’s FIM champion Pablo Quintanilla. Having won in 2014 in Abu Dhabi, he remains optimistic about the season-opener.
“I expect to be among the top riders at the end of the race,” Goncalves told Sport360° on Friday.
“There is a long season in front and it’s important to win as many points as possible. I’m confident and know the others are ready to compete. I want to finish on the podium and if I finish there, it will be the perfect start.”
With the calendar also seeing stops in Qatar, Chile, Argentina and Morocco, each race presents its own challenge. In Abu Dhabi, following today’s Super Stage Special at Al Forsan International Resort, the riders will tackle more than 2,000km over a gruelling desert course.
For Goncalves, this week’s duels will require even more concentration. “This race is different because we race 95 per cent on sandy dunes,” he said.
“Only here we are riding with an open arrow on our GPS and these two things are the most important differences that we’ll have to cope with.”
Still two years short of 40, there’s a strong chance that he will add more honours to his collection.“I really don’t know (on when to retire), he said. “Right now, I feel really good and just want to race and help the team achieve good results.
“The last three or four years have been the best of my career,” he said.
“I know it’s more difficult than before because there are a lot of new riders coming in but I’m still optimistic for the future.”
He added: “I’ve won a lot of National Championships and the 2013 FIM Cross Country title but I’m missing the Dakar Rally title and will try my best to win this title.”
His successes over the years especially since the 2015 Dakar Rally, has seen him become one of the more recognisable sportsmen in Portugal. He’s not on the same level as Real Madrid superstar Cristano Ronaldo but is happy he’s in the spotlight in his homeland.
“It’s absolutely different after I started competing in the Dakar Rallies,” he said.
“The media have now started to show me on television and newspapers and it’s difficult for me to go out of my home when people are wishing me good luck for races or to pose for pictures. But it’s something I enjoy.
“I know that Ronaldo got an airport named after him. I think I would be a lucky guy if I have a street or village named after me. Ronaldo deserves this because he’s an amazing ambassador for our country and it’s hard not to follow football which is constantly shown on television.”
Goncalves also has the responsibility of being a husband and father to his two children, aged six and eight.
“Sometimes it’s difficult being away from home without them,” he said. “They follow my races on TV when I’m overseas and support me.
“My kids and wife love my sport and give me the power to stay strong. When I reach home, they are there to hold me and I’m really lucky to have a family like I have.”
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