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Two riders were injured in the final kilometre of stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia when roadside barriers were blown onto the course by a low-flying helicopter.
The incident occurred in the moments after Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) won a narrow sprint into the seaside town of Villafranca Tirrena. Broadcast images caught sight of Luca Wackermann and Etienne van Empel — both from Italian ProTeam Vini Zabù-KTM — lying on the ground, with barriers blocking the road.
Vini Zabù-KTM sports director Francesco Frassi suggested afterwards that a low-flying helicopter might have been to blame. Giro organiser RCS Sport later confirmed that a helicopter used by state broadcaster RAI was involved in the incident.
Wackermann was knocked unconscious in the crash and was taken to the University Hospital of Messina where he spent Tuesday night. According to a press release from his team, Wackermann has abandoned the Giro after suffering a long list of injuries: “a concussion following a head injury, a fracture of the nasal bones, multiple contusions to the face and in the lumbosacral zone, a valid contusion to the lips and to the dental arch, lacerated wounds to the left eyebrow, on the chin and on the right knee, multiple bruises to arms and legs and a suspected lumbosacral fracture.”
Race organisers credited Wackermann with finishing the stage, meaning he would have been allowed to start stage 5 had his injuries allowed.
Van Empel, meanwhile, suffered only minor cuts on his fingers in the crash and was able to ride through to the finish. “Not really sure what happened but out of nowhere the barriers flew into our group,” the 26-year-old Dutchman said on Twitter. “For now my thoughts are with my teammate Luca and hope some good news will arrive soon.” Van Empel has said he will start stage 5.
American rider Brent Bookwalter (Mitchelton-Scott) was in the same group as Wackermann and Van Empel and narrowly avoided injury.
Cyclistes Professionnels Associés, the pro cyclist’s union, responded to Bookwalter’s tweet saying “Our delegate is investigating what happened today at the #Giro. Clearly whoever caused this serious and unacceptable accident will have to take responsibility.”