The Dutch cyclist was leading the field with just 10 kilometres to the finish when she lost control on the steep descent.
She was thrown from her bike and appeared to hit her head as she landed along the same stretch of road that Geraint Thomas fell off in the men’s race on Saturday.
Initially, the Dutch Cycling Federation tweeted that she was “conscious” and “able to communicate”, with the 33-year-old undergoing further medical checks in hospital. However, reports on Dutch television said Van Vleuten was being kept in intensive care overnight after suffering three cracks in her spine and concussion.
“It looked pretty bad. I thought she was dead,” said her compatriot Anna van der Breggen, who ended up taking gold.
“No one did anything about it. It’s the most important day in your career. When you see something like that, it really does not matter anymore.”
The former gold medallist Chris Boardman added: “I’m actually quite angry about it because I looked at the road furniture and thought: ‘Nobody can crash here and get up.’
“This was way past technical, this was dangerous, and it means people who designed the course have seen it and left it.
“I’m angry about it because I went down there and had a look at the course and saw those edges. We knew this was way past this being a technical, this was dangerous.”
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