Downhill World Champion Rachel Atherton dislocated her shoulder and suffered cuts and bruises in a head-on collision with a pickup truck while training on the road on Sunday afternoon in California.
"I was head-down pedaling at the start of the ride, not more than a minute in when I looked up and saw a truck," Atherton said to the Mercury News. "Automatically (I) swerved to avoid it, but the driver swerved the same way and before I knew it we were too close to avoid each other, so I braced to take some of the impact."
Atherton, a 21-year-old from Britain, was riding with her two Animal Commencal teammates and brothers, Dan and men's downhill World Champion Gee. She reportedly drifted into the wrong lane after negotiating a corner and then hit the windshield of a 1999 Ford Ranger pickup.
"She was just lying there and ... because I saw the pickup, I was like, 'Mate, my sister's dead..." said Gee to BikeRadar. "I honestly thought I'd lost her at that point."
After the accident, Atherton was taken to San Jose Medical Center for initial evaluation and treatment and then was scheduled to see a specialist according to her team manager Dan Brown.
"I feel so lucky that I didn't come off any worse than I did," Atherton said to the Mercury News. "There was a lot of blood and cuts, but it is not too bad."
Atherton was riding without a helmet as she trained for the upcoming opening round of the UCI World Cup downhill is South Africa in April. She said she set out without her helmet after its clasp broke when she was putting it on after warm-up.
"I figured that, seeing as we were out there already, I would take the chance and ride without it on," Atherton said. "As Sod's Law (Murphy's law) would have it, the one time that I wasn't wearing my helmet was the one time that I needed it."
A member of the California High Patrol has indicated that Atherton was at fault in the incident, but would probably not be cited since she was the one injured and hurt.
"From now on I will never take the chance again, even if it means driving back and getting a different helmet," she said. "Obviously being a professional cyclist, I wear a helmet at all times and I urge, as this experience has taught me, that people wear a helmet no matter what, there is no excuse."
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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews. She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.