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Lingering concussion symptoms will keep Demi Vollering out of the European Championships on Sunday. The SD Worx rider crashed in the final 4 km of stage 4 of the Tour of Scandinavia earlier in August. She finished the stage but did not start the next day. At the time, the team did not indicate exactly why their leader was out of the race, simply stating an hour before the stage started that she would not ride although Vollering herself wrote on her Instagram she “probably” had a “little concussion”.
It is the second time in a month the Dutch team has had a rider crash during a stage, finish said stage, and not start the following day. During the Tour de France, Marlen Reusser crashed during the sixth stage but didn’t start stage 7 after a post-race examination revealed she had sustained a concussion.
The morning after Reusser’s crash SD Worx sports director Anna van der Breggen said it was clear when the Swiss rider went down that it was a hard fall.
“We saw her after the crash,” said Van der Breggen. “She got back on the bike ok, she could tell she was ok, but you could also tell that she crashed hard, so the medical doctor was there straight after the stage to check her, just to make sure. In precaution, we went to the hospital and I think the only thing you can do is…it’s only a bike race and the health of the riders is more important, so it was not a difficult decision to say today: better to take rest and recover.”
In Reusser’s case, 20 km remained on the stage. She finished 15 minutes behind the stage winner Marianne Vos.
In-race concussion diagnosis remains a challenge for teams and medical staff. The UCI announced new concussion protocols in December of 2020. It included expanded protocols for on-course and post-race assessments, as well as guidelines for returning to racing after a concussion. However, the nature of stage-racing makes it hard for teams to properly assess fallen riders for concussion symptoms.
The two SD Worx examples point to a worrying trend in which on-course concussion examinations don’t throw up any, or enough, red flags to pull a rider from the race. In both Reusser and Vollering’s cases, they crashed outside 3 km to go and were up against the clock to get to the finish. There is no such thing as “time out” in a race situation, and an athlete will always jump back on their bike without fully thinking through the full situation. Hours later, it was determined they shouldn’t continue. Of course, they already had continued earlier in the day.