Finnish downhill rider Matti Lehikoinen had signed a multi-year deal with MS-Intense Factory-Racing team just three days before breaking three vertebrae in his back, it has been revealed. The move sees the Finn leave the successful Team G-Cross Honda team and he was due to become Intense's new lead rider for the 2008 season. However, Lehikoinen is likely to spend the next two to three weeks in hospital before beginning a three month period of rehabilitation. It may then be a further two to three months before he is able to consider getting back on a bike.
Jeff Steber, president of Intense Cycles, however, is looking forward to working with the Finn. "We are really excited to have Matti on board next season. His talent as a racer, focus and personality will be an asset to the MS Intense Racing program."
Lehikoinen himself has been speaking about the accident. "I landed directly onto my head, but slightly to the right," he said from his hospital bed in Helsinki. "The helmet is marked on the top at the right. Also I have a big skin abrasion on my right collarbone where the jawline of the helmet cut me, that's how far over my head was.
"The doctors feel that on impact my spine twisted one way, and then the next, like a zig zag, and they say it's a miracle it's not a lot worse. The three vertebrae have what they call a compressed fracture. They are in the area of the spine that are level with the chest. I'm still in pain but can breathe fairly comfortably."
Doctors have confirmed that there is no risk of paralysis and that a decision on whether to operate will be taken today.