Edmonton world champion track cyclist Stefan Ritter is in stable condition in the Intensive Care Unit at the Royal Alexandra Hospital after hitting his head in a crash at an international event in Mexico last week.
Ritter, 20, a member of the Canadian Cycling national team, was competing at the Pan American Track Championship in Aguascalientes, Mexico, and crashed while taking part in the Keirin event on Aug. 30.
“The Keirin race is a sprint event with six athletes on the track at the same time,” said Cycling Canada high performance director Kris Westwood, who witnessed the crash. “It was just over a lap to go and Stefan was sitting third or fourth position and he looked like he was sitting in a good position to advance to the next round — you have to finish top three out of the six riders — and then it was a chain reaction where one rider came down and caused him to lose control and he crashed into another athlete and on to the track, hitting his head on the track at about 65-70 kilometres an hour.”
According to a statement put out by Cycling Canada, Ritter lost consciousness and was treated at the scene by Canadian medical staff before being taken to hospital where he was sedated and placed in intensive care.
“I can’t really speak to medical specifics, but my understanding is that he is regaining awareness over the last couple of days,” Westwood said. “He’s been pretty heavily sedated, especially with the airlift. He was flown by air ambulance from Aguascalientes to Edmonton. They need to sedate people in those circumstances so they’re able to handle the trip and it’s taken a little while for him to come off the sedation.”
A graduate of Strathcona High School, Ritter began his track career with the Juventus Cycling Club out of the Argyll Velodrome. He competed at the 2018 Track Cycling World Championships in Apeldoorn, Netherlands in March and in the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia in April.
A 2020 Olympic hopeful, Ritter won a junior world championship in 2016, in the 1 km time trial, setting a world record in the process. He is the first Canadian to win a world junior gold medal.
“Stefan is super talented,” Westwood said. “He’s super talented, a great kid, very smart, very coachable. Some kids are harder to work with, but Stefan is amazing, he listens to the feedback the coaches give him and he’s a technically accomplished, very good cyclist from a technical standpoint as well.”
According to the statement put out by Cycling Canada, Ritter’s treatment is focused on his head injury. He also fractured a cheekbone in the crash and his family and medical staff are optimistic he will be able to make a full recovery in time.
“In the sprint events, crashes are pretty common, but usually it just results in some abrasions and if you’re really unlucky you can get a broken collarbone or something like that,” Westwood said. “But it’s very unusual for somebody to be injured to this extent. It’s not unheard of, but it’s pretty unusual. Obviously we’re very concerned and in constant contact with Stefan’s family and we’re supporting him in every way we can.
“The focus right now is on his health. Whether he’ll be able to recover to the point that he’s able to resume competition is secondary to him just being able to be healthy and able to proceed with a normal life.”
Ritter’s family has asked not to be contacted regarding his condition, and updates will be released through Cycling Canada.
“The family is very focused on supporting Stefan and being around him,” Westwood said. “They’ve been really amazing to deal with, they’re very understanding of the circumstances and they’re wonderful people and they’re really focused on supporting Stefan as he gets through these injuries and recovers.”
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On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest