(Reuters) - American race favourite Chloe Dygert suffered a serious leg injury after a horror crash in the individual time trial at the UCI Road World Championships as Dutchwoman Anna van der Breggen claimed gold on Thursday.
The 23-year-old defending champion Dygert was setting a searing pace on the 31.7km circuit at Imola and looked certain for another gold before losing control.
Dygert, a 10-times world champion on track and road, was 26 seconds ahead at the intermediate checkpoint but on a fast descent her bike wobbled as she came into a corner.
Despite managing to lose some speed she ran out of road, hit a guard rail and flipped over the top and down an embankment.
She was treated by paramedics at the scene before being taken to hospital in Bologna.
USA Cycling said she had been conscious and talking.
Images posted on social media showed Dygert being taken away from the scene on a stretcher with a drip attached while another appeared to show a gruesome deep gash above her left knee.
Her coach, three-time Olympic gold medallist Kristin Armstrong confirmed to website Cyclingnews that Dygert had suffered a severe laceration.
"Currently we don't know the prognosis yet. I know for a fact that she was flown to a hospital in Bologna and that she is being seen by doctors in the emergency room now," she said.
"They were all concerned with a deep laceration to her leg, where she hit that guard rail, it's horrifying and sickening, and it's going to be a hard recovery for Chloe.
"This is definitely a serious accident but she will look back on it and hopefully be able to say that she was lucky in a lot of ways. It could have been more serious."
Olympic road race champion Van der Breggen, who finished second behind Dygert last year in Harrogate when the American won by a record margin, claimed victory in 40:20.14, 15 seconds quicker than Swiss Marlen Reusser with Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands) in third place.
"Getting second (in the TT) for many years, I would say that I really can't believe it yet," Van der Breggen said.
Dygert, who rides in trademark pink socks and shoes, has became the new golden girl of American cycling.
After dominating the time trial at last year's road world championships she powered the Americans to victory in team pursuit at the track world championships in Berlin this year, also winning the 3km individual pursuit in a world record time.
She would have gone for track and road gold at the Tokyo Olympics this year had the Games not been postponed.
The UCI Road World Championships were originally scheduled to be held in Aigle-Martigny in Switzerland but were moved to Imola because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Action continues on Friday with the men's elite time trial.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Chrisitan Radnedge and Toby Davis)