Roelandts in the hospital with a broken vertebra

The neck injury will make a third overall win for Greipel a greater challenge

Lotto-Belisol rider Jurgen Roelandts has been diagnosed with a fracture in his sixth cervical vertebra after getting caught in a 15-rider crash in the final kilometer of the first stage of the 2012 Tour Down Under.

The Belgian was taken to the hospital immediately following the crash, ending his participation in the stage race.

Although he narrowly avoided the crash himself, race leader André Greipel will feel the results of the crash in the coming stages with the loss of his fellow Lotto-Belisol teammate. “I am lucky that I won today, there was a massive crash with 800 metres to go,” said Greipel.  “My pedal got touched, and I lost positions from about fifth to 20th, but I managed to bridge the gap.”

Greipel has a third overall win on his mind, but Roelandts’ crash will put added strain on his team. “We lost one rider, Roelandts, and it will be hard to defend the title,” said Greipel, a German sprint specialist who won the race in 2008 and 2010.  “He’s one of my main lead-out guys, one of the strongest for the GC (general classification) because he can climb and sprint good.”

Greipel criticized the race organizers for what he believed was an unsafe final sprint. “We did 150km today, and why do we have to do a downhill sprint?” said Greipel after the race. “We did 75km per hour. If something happens you cannot react.”

In temperatures that were said to have reached 124 degrees F according to AFP, Greipel took the ochre leader’s jersey in a photo finish against Lampre rider Alessandro Petacchi, after also winning the pre-race criterium on Sunday.

Although his participation in the Tour Down Under has come to an end this season, Roelandts is expected to be able to get back on the bike “between three and six weeks,” according to Lotto-Belisol.