Alex Zanardi in medically induced coma after crashing handbike into truck

ROME (AP) -- Italian race car champion-turned-Paralympic gold medalist Alex Zanardi was in a medically induced coma and remained in serious condition a day after crashing his handbike into a truck and smashing his face. Zanardi -- who lost both of his legs in a race-car crash nearly 20 years ago -- was hooked up to a ventilator and had "stable" blood flow while his neurological status "remains serious," the Santa Maria alle Scotte hospital in Siena said Saturday in a medical bulletin. "The condition of Alex Zanardi is serious but stable," Dr.

Giuseppe Olivieri said in a briefing outside the hospital. "He arrived here with major facial cranial trauma, a smashed face, and a deeply fractured frontal bone (forehead)." "The numbers are good, although it remains a very serious situation." Zanardi was transported by helicopter to the hospital after crashing near the Tuscan town of Pienza during a relay race Friday.

Local TV at the scene of the crash showed what was apparently Zanardi's handbike lying on its side at the edge of the road and a large truck pulling a semitrailer parked ahead. Late Friday, the hospital said Zanardi underwent "a delicate neurosurgery operation" due to "severe cranial trauma." The surgery lasted about three hours, after which Zanardi was moved to the intensive care unit.

"We won't see what his neurological state is until he wakes up -- if he wakes up. Serious condition means it's a situation when someone could die. Improvement takes time in these cases.

Turns for the worse can be sudden," said Olivieri, who operated on Zanardi. "The operation went according to the plan. It's the initial situation that was very serious." "The next step is to try and stabilize him over the next week or 10 days.

Then if things go well, he could eventually be woken up and re-evaluated." Zanardi's wife, Daniela, and his son, Niccolo, were at his bedside. "As I told his wife, he's a patient who is worth being treated," Olivieri said, referring to his chances for improvement. "As far as a prognosis of how he'll be tomorrow, in a week or in 15 days, I don't know.

But I'm convinced that he should be treated." The 53-year-old Zanardi won two championships in CART in the United States before a brief move to Formula One. He returned to America and was racing in Germany in a CART event in 2001 when both of his legs were severed in a horrific accident the weekend after the Sept.

11 terrorist attacks. During his recovery, Zanardi designed his own prosthetics and learned to walk again. He then turned his attention to hand cycling and developed into one of the most accomplished athletes in the world.

He won four gold medals and two silvers at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics, competed in the New York City Marathon and set an Ironman record in his class. Prosecutors in Siena have opened a criminal investigation into the accident and the race's organization -- and specifically whether enough safety precautions were taken. About 10 disabled riders were escorted by one police vehicle, local reports said.

Witnesses have said that the accident occurred on a downhill section just before a curve in the road. Zanardi apparently lost control and veered into the oncoming lane. The truck apparently tried to swerve out of the way but couldn't avoid the crash.

The truck driver, who was placed under investigation, tested negative for alcohol and drugs. "The truck didn't make a mistake. Alex made the mistake," said national team coach Mario Valentini, who was following the race.

The race was part of a two-week relay event throughout Italy to promote the country's rebirth after the coronavirus pandemic. It was created by an association led by Zanardi with an aim of bringing more Italians to the Paralympics.

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As Chloe Dygert stood atop the podium, after the most dominant time trial in world road cycling championships history, she had to remind herself to smile. The silver medalist, Dutchwoman Anna van der Breggen, wasn't convinced.

"Are you happy that you won?" van der Breggen asked her on Sept.

24 in Yorkshire, Great Britain. "I must not have looked or seemed very happy about it," Dygert said recently. "I am told by several people that I don't really show too much emotion, or not happy emotion, when I'm on the podium." Dygert let her bike riding leave the ultimate impression.

She replayed her emphatic victory -- by 92 seconds on an 18-mile course to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics -- with NBC Sports cycling host Paul Burmeister for a special edition replay that will air on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA on Monday at 8 p.m. ET. It's part of four nights of watchbacks:

2019 World Road Cycling Championships Special Edition TV Schedule (all 8 p.m. ET on Olympic Channel)
Monday: Women's Time Trial (with Chloe Dygert)
Tuesday: Women's Road Race (with Chloe Dygert)
Wednesday: Men's Time Trial (with Rohan Dennis)
Thursday: Men's Road Race (with Lawson Craddock) Dygert, at 22, became the youngest man or woman to win a world title in the road time trial.

But as she waited for the last riders to finish, and as she received her gold medal and rainbow jersey, she kept thinking about how she could have -- should have -- gone faster. Not pushing enough on a descent. Being too conservative on a turn.

Most vivid, the line she took with 1km to go, just outside her hotel, that took her way outside of the barriers. "If I see it, I'm not even going to watch it because I just know how frustrated I am with it," she said. "It drives me nuts. I get fired up talking about it."

It fits Dygert's personality. Growing up outside Indianapolis, she was moved from a girls' soccer team to the boys. "I was a little too mean and aggressive," she said. She played basketball but broke too many bones -- her own and those of other girls. "Not on purpose," she said, "but I was just so much bigger and naturally so much stronger."

She wanted to be Larry Bird. Then she ran cross-country and wanted to be Steve Prefontaine. She picked up cycling in earnest around age 15.

At 18, she swept junior world titles in the road race and time trial. At 19, she won an Olympic team pursuit silver medal on the track. Dygert goes into races expecting to win and with a goal to hurt more than every other cyclist.

It was evident at the end of her time trial on the wet roads of Yorkshire, collapsing on the pavement when she dismounted her bike. "If I don't perform and train how I should so I can be like that at the end of a race, it's almost like it doesn't count," said Dygert, whose coach is three-time Olympic time trial champion Kristin Armstrong. Dygert's intensity manifests in her warm-up playlist: There's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" by Whitney Houston.

But the majority being songs from "Rocky" film soundtracks. The crescendo is music from "Rocky IV" when Balboa is fighting Ivan Drago. "So every time I hear that song now [outside of racing], I have to turn it off because I can't handle it," she said. "It's amazing, the power of music."

Cycling is the rare Olympic sport with a world championships every year, including Olympic years. The 2020 World Championships are still scheduled for late September. Dygert could get the chance to defend her title and better her fourth-place finish from the road race in 2019.

She missed the breakaway last year when her chain dropped, and she had to manually remount it. Then in 2021, Dygert is expected to race three events in Tokyo -- road race, road time trial and team pursuit on the track. She will try to succeed Armstrong as the time trial gold medalist and lead the U.S. to its first women's Olympic title on the track.

It would be historic. What it might not be is completely satisfying. "Even when I win, I'm still not happy," Dygert said. "It's very hard, and I bet it is frustrating for those girls [other cyclists] to see that, especially when they bring it up to me.

I do feel bad. That's who I am. That's not going to change.

I want to be the best at anything and everything. I want to beat the boys. I don't care."

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ROME (AP) -- Alex Zanardi, the Italian race car champion who transitioned into a gold medalist Paralympian after losing both of his legs, was seriously injured in a handbike race on Friday.

Zanardi was transported by helicopter to Santa Maria alle Scotte hospital in Siena following a crash near the Tuscan town of Pienza during a national race for Paralympic athletes, police told The Associated Press. A medical bulletin from the hospital said Zanardi underwent "a delicate neurosurgery operation" due to "severe cranial trauma." The surgery lasted about three hours, after which Zanardi was moved to the intensive care unit.

"His condition remains very serious," the hospital said. Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte tweeted: "You've never given up and with your extraordinary strength within you've overcome a thousand troubles. Forza Alex Zanardi.

Don't give up. All of Italy is with you." A Carabinieri police official in Montepulciano said the incident involved a "heavy vehicle."

Local TV at the scene of the crash showed what was apparently Zanardi's handbike lying on its side and missing two of its three wheels. A large truck pulling a semitrailer appeared parked on the road ahead. "It happened on a slightly downhill straightaway just before a slight curve in the road," national team coach Mario Valentini, who was following the race, told La Repubblica Florence. "Alex veered slightly into the oncoming lane just when a truck came. (The truck) tried to swerve but couldn't avoid the crash."

Prosecutors in Siena opened a criminal investigation into the incident and into the race's organization. Repubblica said Zanardi remained conscious until medical personnel arrived, and he was breathing by himself. "Twenty minutes passed from the time of the accident to when the medical personnel arrived.

It took some time to load him (into the ambulance). His wife helped. After the accident he was talking," Valentini added in another interview with local media.

Valentini said he was not an eyewitness to the accident but arrived at the scene immediately afterward. "It was a sunny day and everyone was happy. We were 20 kilometers (12 miles) from (the finish line) in Montalcino," Valentini said. "The truck didn't make a mistake.

Alex made the mistake." The coach added that Zanardi's helmet came off during the crash. Racing great Mario Andretti tweeted, "I am so anxious and frightened about Alex Zanardi that I'm holding my breath.

I am his fan. I am his friend. Please do what I'm doing and pray pray (for) this wonderful man."

The 53-year-old Zanardi won two championships in CART In the United States before a brief move to Formula One. He returned to America and was racing in Germany in a CART event in 2001 when both of his legs were severed in a horrific accident the weekend after the Sept.

11 terrorist attacks. CART raced only because the series was already in Germany at the time of the attacks and could not return to the U.S.

During his recovery, Zanardi designed his own prosthetics -- he jokes he made himself taller -- and learned to walk again. He then turned his attention to hand cycling and developed into one of the most accomplished athletes in the world. He won four gold medals and two silvers at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics, competed in the New York City Marathon and set an Ironman record.

His spirit, will, and determination gave the beloved Italian a larger than life persona. When he returned to the U.S. in 2019 to compete for BMW at the Rolex 24 of Daytona without his prosthetics, he was the most revered driver in a field that included F1 champion Fernando Alonso. Drivers from around the world sought out Zanardi for photographs and were transfixed as he told elaborate, often embellished, tales of his adventures in the nearly two decades since many had seen him.

Noted for his infectious smile and fanciful storytelling, Zanardi proved time and again to be among the most determined people his peers have ever known.

"He has seven lives," Valentini said. "Like cats."

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