BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Lance Armstrong avoided trouble in the crash-marred first stage of the Tour de France won Sunday by Italy's Alessandro Petacchi when other top sprinters fell.
Three crashes tangled up riders in the last few miles, including a pileup within the last half-mile. Race leader Fabian Cancellara went down, and defending champion Alberto Contador scraped a leg against another bike when he hit his brakes. Both men finished the stage with minor bumps and scrapes.
"Total mayhem," Armstrong said, noting that several of his RadioShack teammates were tangled up in the spills.
The seven-time Tour champion was delayed on the crash-clogged road, but didn't get caught in any of the pileups and remained fourth behind race leader Cancellara.
The overall standings didn't change after the 139-mile run under sunny skies and past big roadside crowds through flat Belgian and Dutch lowlands from Rotterdam to Brussels.
Tony Martin remained 10 seconds behind Cancellara, winner of Saturday's prologue, and Britain's David Millar was in third, 20 seconds off the pace. Armstrong was another 2 seconds back and Contador was sixth, 5 seconds behind his American rival.
"Typical first stage: Everybody wants to be in the front, everybody nervous for crashes," Armstrong said, noting that a huge fan turnout on the roadsides was both good and bad.
"Millions and millions on the road, it's a blessing and a curse. It's so great to have so many supporters," he said. "It [also] makes the guys super-nervous.
"And on these tight roads, with bad surfaces and a lot of turns, there shouldn't be any surprise that there are crashes there."
Top sprinters such as Britain's Mark Cavendish, who won six Tour stages last year, and Oscar Freire of Spain, crashed while negotiating a sharp turn in the last few miles.
Then, in the last 1,000 yards, a massive pileup left Lampre rider Petacchi a relatively easy sprint victory ahead of the approximately 20 riders who were able to avoid the spill.
Cancellara went down and Contador slammed on his brakes to avoid the pileup, which blocked up the roadway and prevented many riders from getting through.
"It was really nervous today, and at the end it was just insane," said Cancellara, noting that cycling's biggest races mean many riders jostle anxiously for stage-win glory in the early flat stages.
"At the end, I couldn't do anything. I was also in the chaos," he said. "I hit the ground pretty hard. ... Tomorrow I will feel the asphalt that I found at the end."
Millar and Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso crashed after a dog darted into the pack around the 35-mile mark. Both returned to the race.
Cavendish was without the services of one of his top lead-out men, as HTC-Columbia teammate Adam Hansen of Australia fell in an early crash. Team officials said it wasn't immediately clear what happened, but they suspected a broken left collarbone and said he'd go directly to the hospital after the stage.
Petacchi clocked 5 hours, 9 minutes, 38 seconds for the stage, screaming and thrusting his index fingers into the air as he crossed the finish. The 36-year-old Italian is riding his first Tour since 2004 -- the year after he collected four stage victories.
Mark Renshaw of Australia placed second and Norway's Thor Hushovd was third.
Armstrong crossed in 55th place, Contador was 44th and Cancellara trailed in 130th. They received the same time as Petacchi under race rules that award riders in the pack the same time if a crash takes place in the main group within the last 1,000 meters.
Moldavian champion Alexandr Pliuschin burst out of the pack with about 15 miles left to catch three breakaway riders who had jumped out very early. He and Belgium's Martin Wynants held off the main bunch until being over taken with just over six miles to go.
Riders embark on another mostly flat ride in Monday's second stage, a 125-mile jaunt from Brussels to Spa.