The Valcar-PBM rider was air lifted to hospital and operated upon with the 21-year-old in a 'guarded' condition

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A black cloud hovers over the Giro Rosa ahead of stage eight as Italian rider Claudia Cretti remains in a critical condition in hospital following a collision with the barriers on Thursday.

The crash took place on a descent during stage seven, from Isernia to Baronissi. Her team – Valcar-PBM – has reported that she was riding at around 90kph when she lost control of the bike.

The greatest worry for the 21-year-old rider’s health is a head injury which, early reports say could leave her with permanent brain damage.

Organisers at the Giro Rosa are “being reserved” about the rider’s prognosis, and her team have published a medical bulletin that states she is in a “critical but stable neurological condition”.

Cretti was flown to hospital in Rummo, in Benevento, straight after the accident where she had emergency surgery on her head and shoulder – which is broken.

Cycling legend Eddy Merckx eyes Claudia Cretti’s Bianchi race bike as they wait for the start of stage two in Qatar in 2016

She had fallen once already, on stage two – but recovered well to secure eighth place in the sprint on stage four.

Her team-mates will start the stage seven despite the incident, saying “this is the best way to stay close to Claudia.”

Earlier they released a statement: “The condition is very serious and the athlete is on the danger list, because it is feared brain damage. We kindly ask you to respect the people directly involved in the affair: the athlete’s family first, and then all our athletes who are very shaken by what happened.”

They later added via a Facebook update that she was “in critical but stable neurological condition” and in a medically induced coma.

Riders at the only women’s Grand Tour have responded with concern and compassion.

Friday’s stage is a 141.8km route from Baraonissi to Palinuro – it begins with a long descent, then riders will attack two longer ascents before a flat finish.