Dakar Rally alumnus Gilles Gard died Saturday after a battle with cancer at the age of 56. He had been fighting the disease for months before passing Saturday morning at a hospital in Cahors, France.
“He had a great day yesterday, he surprised me by being able to get up and be seated at the table, and he was happy, I think,” said his partner Sylvie in a video posted on Facebook. “I must also inform you as he wished. Who will be able to talk to you anymore, who will be able to talk to me anymore, who will say anything to anyone anymore? He loved you very much. He tried everything for lots of people. He was perfectly kind. I spent sixteen years with him and I couldn’t forget them now.
“The page will turn and I’m less certain I would be able to turn it, but one thing I know is that all your support has made him so happy these last few days. He thanks you for it and I thank you for it.”
Gard was a two-time cancer survivor in the 2000s, defeating lymphoma in 2001 followed by leukaemia in 2004. Although lymphoma forced him to end his endurance motorcycle racing career and leukaemia kept him in lengthy isolation in a sterilised room, he remained in shape by pursuing physical training like using an exercise bicycle. This inspired him to become an advocate for using sport to stay healthy while battling illness, purchasing exercise bikes for hospitals in France including the Cahors clinic through his Team Gard programme. In its first decade of operation, Team Gard bought ninety-three bikes includding twelve in 2023.
Once fully fit again, Gard made his Dakar Rally début in 2012, fulfilling a childhood dream after growing up watching the race with his father. He retired after crashing shortly before the end of Stage #2, and also did not finish the 2013 and 2014 editions. While Gard bowed out from all three attempts, being able to run the legendary rally raid multiple times was enough to prove his point of staying fit to better recover from disease.
He later competed in the Africa Eco Race from 2015 to 2018, finishing third in the 2017 race’s T2 category in a Mitsubishi Pajero. Gard also raced a Renault Zoe in the E-Rallye Monte-Carlo until 2022.
“I would like people to say that I never gave up the fight against cancer,” Gard told La Dépêche in July. “Victory, sometimes, is a gamble. That’s life.”