Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten had a strong lead with less than 12km (7 miles) to go in the women's 141km road cycling race, when all of a sudden, it appeared her back tire drifted, causing her to clip sideways over her bike and crash viciously into a curb. After being evaluated by medical experts, Vleuten was determined to have suffered a concussion and three "small" fractures on her lumbar spine. She is set to spend 24 hours in intensive care, and is still conscious.
The route, approved by the Rio Olympics Committee, was at times as beautiful as it was treacherous, winding through jungles and beaches—along cobblestone and past the historic Fort Copacabana. But the tight turns through the course proved too difficult today and during yesterday's men's 241.5km race on the same circuit. During one tight turn, an Iranian men's cyclist dove headlong into a concrete wall.
"It's the hardest course I've seen in a single-day race," American rider Megan Guarnier told NBC. "It has everything in it."
Former individual pursuit champion Chris Boardman thought that the route was a step too far beyond difficult.
"I am past commenting—I am angry about it," he 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."
Though van Vleuten was ruled out of the race for obvious reasons, the gold did not escape the Netherlands on the day. Van Vleuten's teammate Anna van der Breggen went on to take first place after overcoming leader American Mara Abbott in a tense final 100m sprint.
"It really shook me when I saw Annemiek crashed in the road," van der Breggen said of her fallen teammate after the race. "If you see her like that, it changes everything."