SHARON LAWS, the Olympic road race cyclist from Bourton, suffered a compressed fracture to vertebrae in her back and a broken collarbone in a horror crash on Sunday in South Africa.

Laws was leading the women’s section of the famous 109km Cape Argus race when the accident happened less than 2km from the finish.

It is a devastating blow for Laws, who will surely be unable to defend her British Road Race Cycling title in Glasgow on June 23.

Sharon has relished wearing her national champion’s jersey this winter in South Africa, where she has been in tremendous form for the Momentum Toyota team.

She was piling on the pressure at the head of the field in Cape Town when she could not avoid hitting a male cyclist who had crashed in front of her. The Argus is the world’s largest individually-timed cycle race with almost 35,000 entrants and has a history of spectacular crashes.

Laws was due to have surgery today to have a plate inserted in her broken collarbone. She also has painful rib injuries.

On April 1, Sharon is due to return to her summer base at Girona in Spain ahead of the European season with her new Lotto Belisol Ladies’ team. That may now have to be delayed. But friends and family insist this setback will not spell the end to the successful race career of the tremendously popular Laws, who will be 39 this summer.

Hanlie Booyens, who this weekend was due to partner Laws in the legendary Cape Eric mountain bike race which they have won twice before, said: “To see a great friend in agony and heartbroken is never easy.

“Sharon had a horrible crash nearing the finish line of the Argus. She was out there having a brilliant ride.

“She was in front, riding aggressively and unfortunately this meant she was the first in line when one of the guys went down, sending her rocketing over him and crashing badly.

“It's a great setback at the start of her European season. Yes, she’ll need some time, but she’ll be back.”

The women’s Cape Argus race was won for a record seventh time by Anriette Schoeman. She had crashed in the same event 12 months ago, breaking her hand Runner-up was fellow South African Cherise Stander, whose husband, the Olympic mountain bike rider Burry Stander, was knocked down and killed by a minibus taxi while training in January.

Back home in Bourton, Sharon’s mum Joy picked up the news of her daughter’s accident from the internet.

“I turned on the computer to find out how Sharon had got on and was shocked to see a picture of her in hospital wearing a neck brace,” said Joy. “I have had better starts to Mothers’ Day.

“I got a text from Sharon saying ‘I’m okay’. When I eventually got to speak to her in hospital on Monday morning, someone had to hold the phone as her shoulder is in a sling and she is on a morphine drip.

“She was waiting to hear when they could plate her collarbone.

“She’s a good actress and she kept from me the fact that she had compressed fractures of the vertebrae.

“The collarbone is going to take six weeks. I’m guessing the back fractures may keep her out for three to four months.

“It is ironic that with almost 35,000 riders, she thought it would be safer to be out in front.

“But with her head down riding for the finish and surrounded by a lot of burly men, I don’t suppose she could see the crash ahead of her.”

Joy is also convinced the accident will not lead to her daughter’s retirement from competitive cycling.

“Everyone in the sport knows what a fighter she is,” said Joy. “To come back from the disappointment of not being selected for the London Olympic team to win the British Championship shows that.

“Accidents happen in cycling – it is an extreme sport. I don’t enjoy it, but I would always back Sharon to the hilt.”

Sharon had enjoyed an injury-free last 18 months, but that was not the case earlier in her career.

Famously, she broke her leg while being filmed by the BBC on a training run ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She made a near-miraculous recovery to help Nicole Cooke win a road race gold for Team GB in the race despite crashing twice.

She’s going to need to call on those legendary healing qualities all over again. From her hospital bed in Cape Town, Sharon tweeted: ‘Overwhelmed by all messages, so fortunate to have such great friends. Thank you. Very sore, no movement allowed, maybe op tomorrow. #goingnuts.