Italian paracyclist and former Formula 1 driver Alex Zanardi has suffered severe head injuries after a road accident while he was racing his handbike.
The 53-year-old was placed in intensive care in Italy on Friday and is said to be in a “very serious condition”, undergoing a three-hour “delicate neurosurgery” that evening.
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Italian media reports the accident involved a truck on a state highway near the town of Pienza to the south-east of Siena, with Zanardi then being flown to hospital in Siena by air ambulance.
Zanardi had been competing in the Obiettivo Tricolore road race for Italian Paralympic athletes, with his coach, Mario Valentini, saying the rider was conscious when medical assistance arrived.
Eyewitness accounts told to La Repubblica Zanardi had lost control of the handbike and crossed over to the opposite lane of traffic, then colliding with a truck. Valentini told Radio Capital: “There is a long straight on the descent with a four per cent slope…his helmet didn’t hold up, it moved. It took some time for the helicopter to arrive, we are in the middle of the woods”.
The police have acquired video footage that captured the accident and will now investigate the incident.
The Italian lost both of his legs and nearly his life in a 2001 Champ Car crash in Germany, his heart stopping seven times as he lost all but a litre of blood in his body.
Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte said: “You have never given up and with your extraordinary fortitude you have overcome a thousand difficulties”.
Zanardi has won four Olympic gold medals across various paracycling disciplines, taking two golds and a silver at both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games.