Rio Olympics 2016: Horror crash mars women's road race
A horrifying cycle accident has left Dutch Olympic cyclist Anna van Vleuten in intensive care, with three spinal fractures and a concussion.
The incident occurred while she was leading the women's road race at Rio on Monday (NZ time)
All alone ahead of the pack, van Vleuten was taking a tight downhill turn at great speed when she skidded, flipped over her bike and smashed head-first into the pavement and a stone curb.
"It looked pretty bad. I thought she was dead," compatriot Anna van der Breggen, who came from behind to win gold in the race, told the Guardian.
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The incident occurred with about nine kilometres to go, in reportedly damp conditions, in the 141 km race.
"I was really shocked when I saw the crash, and it didn't look good, but I had to focus and keep on with the race," van der Breggen told reporters (via CNN).
Van Vleuten had only recently fully recovered from major injuries suffered last year while training in Italy. The 32-year-old was hit by a car, leaving her with multiple fractures and a collapsed lung.
"[Van Vleuten] is fully conscious and her reactions are adequate," the Dutch federation said in a statement, reporting "no internal bleedings or damage."
According to a tweet from journalist Jacquelin Magnay: "Dutch chef de mission reports Van Vleuten severe concussion, three small fractures on lumbar spine. Will spend 24 hours in intensive care."
After van Vleuten's crash, American Mara Abbott took the lead. However, she was overtaken in the final stretch and barely lost out on a medal, finishing fourth.
Dutch teammate van der Breggen won the race, out-sprinting Sweden's Emma Johansson (second) and Italy's Elisa Longo Borghini (third).
It was the second straight gold medal for the Netherlands in the event, following Marianne Vos's triumph in 2012. Connie Carpenter won the US's only gold medal in the women's road race in 1984, the first year it was contested at the Games.
The shocking crash moved former Olympic individual pursuit champion Chris Boardman to label the course dangerous, having watched Italian Vincenzo Nibali suffer a broken collarbone in a crash on the same descent in the men's race the previous day.
"I am past commenting - I am angry about it," Boardman told the BBC.
"I went down and had a look at the course and saw those edges. We knew it was way past being technical; it was dangerous. The people who designed the course and said what safety features were needed had seen it as well and left it.
"We knew the descent was treacherous. I looked at that road furniture and thought, nobody can crash here and just get up. It is really bad and that is what we have seen today."
Van Vleuten was part of a seven-woman break at the 39km mark.
New Zealand's Linda Villumsen made an initial dab to catch the break but didn't persevere, and finished 23rd.
She was 5min behind van der Breggen, who will be Villumsen's main rival in her top event, the time trial, on Thursday (NZT).
"I didn't see that all happen. Unfortunately crashes do happen in our sport and it's never nice to see someone on the ground like that," Villumsen told Sky Sport of the crash.
Villumsen said her main goal was to stay out of trouble with a view to her main event, in which she won the world title last September.
"We ended up - most of the time trialists - sitting in the same group so maybe it's same strategy, try not to expend too much energy."