Australian cycling medallist and stair climbing champion, Paul Crake, 29, will undergo surgery in New Zealand's Christchurch Hospital after suffering spinal injuries in a crash during Saturday's stage of the Powernet Tour of Southland.
Crake was one of five cyclists blown off the road by a powerful wind gust as they headed into the final two kilometres of the 79 kilometre eighth stage from Te Anau to Lumsden. He was taken to the local hospital by ambulance and on Sunday flown by air ambulance to Christchurch.
Scans have revealed minor fractures to his C1 and C2 cervical vertebrae and dislocations of his T5 and T6 thoracic vertebrae. He also sustained numerous cuts and bruising. Doctors say it is too early to predict the full impact of his injuries but will operate to stabilise his cervical vertebrae and to pin and secure the T5 and T6 vertebrae.
ACT Cycling Federation President and competitive cyclist, Steve Blair, was by his teammate's side within moments of the crash occurring. "Two kilometres from the finish of the stage they came down a slight descent and it was just incredibly windy and they were caught by a gust and blown down the bank," said Blair. "Four riders got up but Paul didn't.
"Paul hit his back on a fence post at the bottom and lost consciousness for four or five minutes but when he came around he was quite lucid and all his vitals were good," he said. "The race doctor was on the scene really quickly and did all the right things to immobilise him and get him to hospital.
"Paul is fully aware of his situation and the nature of his injuries and his Mom and Dad are here along with friends to give him all the support he needs as he recovers from the surgery," said Mr Blair.
Crake was a member of the Australian team at the 2004 Road World Championships in Italy, was third in the road race at last year's Australian open road championships and this year placed second on the fourth stage of the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under into Willunga. This season he has raced as a professional in Italy with Naturino-Sapore di Mare.
He switched from stair climbing to cycling in 2002. As a stair climber he notched up five straight victories in the annual sprint up the 86 flights of stairs (1576 stairs) to the top of New York's Empire State Building between 1999 and 2003, and still holds the record for the fastest ascent, 9'33".