By Gerard Knapp
A clearly shaken head of Australian cycling's governing body updated the assembled media about the condition of the female cyclists from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) cycling team that were struck yesterday in Germany while on a training ride (see earlier report).
At a press conference held at the Dunc Gray Velodrome in Sydney, Graham Fredericks, CEO of Cycling Australia, said the sport was still in shock over the tragedy that took the life of one rider, Amy Gillett, and put her five team-mates in hospital.
The riders were "out for a bit of a leg-stretch" after the long drive up from Italy and had decided to check over the time trial course for the Thuringen Rundfahrt, Germany's major tour for female cyclists. Riding as a group, they were on a descent and understood to have picked up some speed, when they were struck head-on by an out-of-control car being driven in the opposite direction.
The impact of the crash left almost unparalled destruction among a cycling team, at least among Cyclingnews' archives of serious accidents. To have one rider left dead and another five hospitalised - and all from the same team - is virtually unprecedented carnage.
Fredericks provided updates on the team and he said every person in Australia was holding out for the riders in serious condition. The story had become the lead item for all major news outlets, with Prime Minister John Howard releasing a statement earlier in the day expressing his sorrow.
Based on information made available, the latest status on the team is as follows:
Alexis Rhodes, 20 - still in the intensive care unit and her condition is described as "critical". Alexis is understood to have multiple fractures in the thoracic region (the part of the trunk between the neck and the abdomen);
Louise Yaxley, 23 - now stabilised, but her condition is still considered "serious" (which is one level down from "critical");
Katie Brown, 22 - at first it was thought Katie may lose a leg, but Fredericks said surgery on her leg was considered successful. In "serious" condition and in recovery after sustaining multiple fractures;
Lorian Graham, 27 - in a "satisfactory" condition. Understood to have both collarbones broken, plus broken hands, as well as knee and leg injuries;
Katie Nichols, 20 - in a "satisfactory" condition. Had severe deep tissue damage including torn tendons, but again, surgery was considered successful.
Amy Gillett, 29 - deceased.
Fredericks said all cyclists are still in two hospitals (Graham is in separate hospital) after being airlifted from the scene by German paramedics. He understood the level of medical care was excellent. "The German specialists have been outstanding," he said, and that the "Australian Government has been tremendous in its support."
The team was riding along the Landstrasse between Zeulenroda and Auma (Kreis Greiz), reconnoitering the course of the opening time trial of the Thueringen Rundfahrt stage race which was scheduled to start today. A car driven by an 18-year woman skidded off the right hand side of the road and overcorrected getting back onto the tarmac. The driver, who had passed her test just four weeks before, apparently lost control of the car and crossed into the lane where the team was riding, hitting all six riders.
Cycling Australia and the Australian Sports Commission have arranged for the parents of the riders to be on the first available flight to Germany, and they will be joined by Peter Bartels, the chairman of the Australian Sports Commission, who also flies out of Melbourne today.
Other support staff from the AIS cycling program's base in Novellara, Italy, are on their way to Germany, as are two psychologists to assist with counselling. Fredericks said the tragedy will have a major affect on the AIS women's cycling program, considered the most successful development system in women's cycling.
"It goes without saying the program will be wound-down as our focus turns to the athletes' well-being," Fredericks said.
Former members of the AIS women's team such as leading professionals Oenone Wood, Olivia Gollan, Sara Carrigan and Rochelle Gilmore are all in Europe racing for European-based teams, and Cyclingnews understands the news has devastated the close-knit Australians.
It was only one week earlier that the embattled CEO fronted Australia's media in the same venue over the end to the Mark French affair, where an emerging sprinter was cleared of a doping suspension, but along the way attempted to implicate the AIS, its staff and riders. As one CA staffer said, "this really puts that into perspective, doesn't it?"
Update: The first stage of the Thueringen Rundfahrt has been cancelled. A service of commemoration will be held instead at 5:30pm on Tuesday in Zeulenroda's market place.