As BMC celebrated Philippe Gilbert's stage 12 victory at the Giro d'Italia on thursday, Stefan Küng was in the back of an ambulance on his way to a hospital in Vicenza with a compression fracture of his T9 vertebrae after crashing inside the final 25km of the race. Two riders from the CCC Sprandi Polkowice team fell in front of Küng on the slippery second last descent of the day, and the Swiss rider was unable to avoid falling himself
"I did not want to take risks and my sport director, Valerio Piva, said not to take risks," Küng said. "I had a little bit of space from these two guys, but then they crashed in a left-hand corner. I tried to avoid them, but they were everywhere on the road. I hit the bike of one of them, went over it and hit my head on the ground. I think that is how my vertebrae was compressed."
BMC's medical officer Dr. Max Testa explained that Küng will remain hospitalised for the coming days.
"He has no neurological problems and the fracture appears to be stable," Testa said. "He will be kept under observation, then discharged wearing a brace and transferred back to Switzerland for further evaluation and treatment. He will be on bed rest for several days before he can start the rehabilitation process."
Testa added that the expected time of recovery from a fractured vertebrae is 12 to 16 weeks.
As the world individual pursuit champion, Küng was eyeing off Saturday's 60km time trial in which he was hoping to post a high result. He expressed his disappointment with the amount of time he will be forced to remain off his bike.
"I was in the ambulance and the tears were running down," Küng said. "As a sportsman, you always want to keep going. I was looking forward to the time trial every day. So it is a shame to finish like this. When they told me what I have, it is even worse because I know I will not be able to ride my bike for awhile. It is going to take time for me to come back. But for sure, I will come back."
Kung's exit from the race comes in stark contrast with his teammate Gilbert's day, which saw the former World champion solo away from the bunch on the final climb and finish three seconds ahead of Alberto Contador and a sharply reduced peloton.