RIO DE JANEIRO — Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten suffered three small fractures to her spine and will remain hospitalized in intensive care after crashing Sunday during the women’s Olympic road race.
Van Vleuten was leading on the fast, slippery descent of Vista Chinesa when she appeared to lock up her brakes on the final corner. She tumbled onto the road and her bike went flying, and she remained on the edge of the pavement as the rest of the field swept past.
Teammate Anna van der Breggen went on to win the gold medal.
Gold-winning cyclist inspired by fallen teammate
Sailing past her crumpled teammate, Anna van der Breggen suddenly realized she was the only hope the Netherlands had of defending its gold medal in the women’s Olympic road race.
The Dutch team said van Vleuten was conscious when she was loaded into an ambulance, and Chef de Mission Maurits Hendriks and team doctors said she was stable and speaking Sunday night.
It was not known when she would be released.
“It was horrendous crash,” road race silver medalist Emma Johansson of Sweden said. “The peloton is so small and we all know each other very well. I just hope she’s OK.”
The road course of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics caused havoc to the men’s field on Saturday, too.
Giro d’ Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali and Colombian climber Sergio Henao were leading on the same final descent when they crashed. Geraint Thomas of Britain, Richie Porte of Australia and Nelson Oliviera of Portugal were involved in three other hard wrecks.
Nibali’s coach, Davide Cassani, said that the Italian broke his collarbone in the fall. Porte broke his scapula, taking one of the time-trial favorites out of Wednesday’s race.
“It’s a difficult descent because you can go really fast but you also have to corner,” van der Breggen said. “After the men’s race, I think we were all warned we needed to take care of the descent, and we did. Of course, if you’re riding in front, maybe you take too much risk.”
The International Cycling Union defended the difficulty of the course, pointing to a test event and the numerous training opportunities that gave riders a chance to prepare for its twists and turns.
“Yesterday, I spoke with Vincenzo and he told me the descent was very technical,” said Italian rider Elisa Longo Borghini, who took bronze on Sunday. “I took care to be safe to avoid crashes. I had a very hard crash three years ago, so I know what that means.”