Nationwide, 38% of Americans report cycling for exercise and for the many health benefits that come with it. But when you are racing in the Olympics, your only goal is gold.
However, due to the dangerous biking course in Rio, many Olympians’ dreams are being taken away from them right at the final moments of the race.
The 241 kilometer Olympic course features loose cobblestones, crosswinds, both long and short climbs, and an incredibly steep descent. These conditions are making many professional athletes lose control in an action many are saying is not a coincidence.
Turkish cyclist Ahmet Orken fell and crashed on Saturday, along with Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali and Colombia’s Sergio Henao both hitting the pavement about 15 kilometers away from the finish line. Multiple bikers also had to stop mid-race to fix their bikes after their chains popped off because of intense bumping conditions.
On the following day, the women fared just as bad as the men. Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten was severely injured in a crash on live TV as she flew over her handlebars and collided into the shoulder on the side of the road.
With just six miles left to go in the 87-mile course, 33-year-old van Vleuten was expected to take the gold medal. But as she descended down the slippery Vista Chinesa, she launched over her bike into the metal framework that determined the path of the race.
Chase cameras showed her laying unconscious on the side of the road, and was swiftly rushed to a hospital. The Dutch cycling federation confirmed on Twitter later in the day that van Vleuten was in critical condition.
Van Vleuten’s fall inspired Dutch teammate Anna van der Breggen to race ahead for the gold medal in her friend’s honor.
As People reported, van der Breggen told reporters after her win, “I was pretty shocked, I think she crashed hard. I realized I was at the front of the team, so I had to chase. I did it for Annemiek. To see her like that, it’s a big shock.”
As of the time of this writing, van Vleuten is still in the hospital.