Cyclist's condition upgraded to serious

06/18/2010 12:00 AM

06/18/2010 6:41 AM

The professional bicyclist from Spain who was hit by a car while riding along K-254 has been upgraded to serious condition at a local hospital, officials said Thursday.

Diego Ballesteros Cucurull, who was competing in the Race Across America, was hit by a car that drifted off the freeway at 6:44 a.m. Wednesday about a quarter-mile west of the Butler-Sedgwick county line.

The Kansas Highway Patrol's updated report on the incident states Ballesteros was riding in the middle of the shoulder on the right-hand side of K-254 when a car driven by a 22-year-old Wichita man drifted off the road from the right-hand lane and struck his bike.

An initial version of the report incorrectly stated Ballesteros was riding on the left shoulder, Trooper Gary Warner said Thursday.

Ballesteros, 36, was transported by air ambulance to Wesley Medical Center for treatment.

Rick Boethling, race director for Race Across America, said Ballesteros underwent surgery and that doctors "are optimistic about his recovery."

Ballesteros' racing team has withdrawn from the race, which concludes in Annapolis, Md., this weekend.

The driver of the car that struck Ballesteros has not been cited in connection with the collision, said Trooper Eric Molleker, lead investigator on the case. That could eventually change.

Evidence will be presented to the Sedgwick County District Attorney's Office, which has final say on what, if any, criminal charges are filed.

The speed limit on that stretch of K-254 is 70 mph, but "we don't have any evidence that indicates the speed" at the time of the collision, Molleker said.

There were no brake marks, he said, and the 1990 Toyota Camry does not have newer air bags that can detect the vehicle's speed at the time of deployment.

The pilot vehicle that helps shield riders had driven ahead to Benton in anticipation of switching riders, Molleker said, so it was miles from Ballesteros when he was hit. But the support vehicles are not required to be near the bicyclists except for between dusk and dawn, he said.

This is the first time since 2005 that a participant in the Race Across America was hit by a vehicle, Boethling said. There have been "a handful" of similar collisions in the 29 years of the race, he said.

"The most important thing to us is his recovery," Boethling said of Ballesteros.

The race began last week in Oceanside, Calif., and will cover more than 3,000 miles in parts of 14 states by the time it ends.

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