Chavanel avoids crashes, takes lead
SPA, Belgium -- Lance Armstrong bloodied his thigh in a tumble to the asphalt Monday, one of dozens of Tour de France riders ensnared in widespread nerve-racking crashes Monday during a rainy second stage won by new race leader Sylvain Chavanel of France.
Armstrong and defending champion Alberto Contador of Spain fell on a slippery descent from the mid-grade Stockeu Pass toward the end of the 125-mile run from Brussels to Spa. Both completed the stage and were OK, their teams said.
Chavanel took the yellow jersey from Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara. The Frenchman finished in 4 hours, 40 minutes, 48 seconds, winning a Tour stage for the second time in his career. Armstrong is in fifth place overall, 3:19 behind.
With so many riders downed in crashes, organizers said they briefly considered canceling the stage altogether. But under the race rules, the spills were too spread out to warrant a cancellation.
Armstrong returned to the RadioShack team bus with his leg and hip scraped, an elbow aching, his team outfit torn. Many riders suspect a mixture of motor oil and water on the roads was to blame.
"You had people everywhere. It was surreal. When I got back on my bike ... I saw crash, after crash, after crash," Armstrong said, noting riders laid out on the ground. "It was like war."
Some riders said at least half the pack of almost 200 riders had fallen. A medical report listed 23 as at least slightly injured. Among them, sprint specialists Tyler Farrar of the United States and Robbie McEwen of Australia were taken to a hospital for treatment.
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"There was no way to stay on the bike," Armstrong said. "There was something on the road ... I was scared. I think everybody was scared."
RadioShack manager Johan Bruyneel said the elbow Armstrong hurt was not the same one the seven-time Tour champion injured during a crash in the Tour of California in May.
Armstrong dropped a notch to fifth place and is 3 minutes, 19 seconds back. Bruyneel said Armstrong's teammates Andreas Kloeden and Levi Leipheimer also fell.
"Riding downhill was almost like ice skating," Bruyneel said. "Almost half of the peloton crashed today."
Equally unlucky was 2009 Tour runner-up Andy Schleck. The Luxembourg rider appeared to injure his elbows in another spill. He returned to the race and rejoined the pack.
Chavanel, who rides for Quick Step, joined a small early breakaway group and then gradually drew away. Cancellara, like Armstrong and Contador, trailed by 3:56 in the main pack. Armstrong placed 54th and Contador was 81st.
Chavanel had started the stage in 87th place overall, 59 seconds behind Cancellara. He was choked with emotion afterward.
"Pure happiness," he said.
Cancellara now trails Chavanel by 2:57, with Germany's Tony Martin in third place, 3:07 back. Britain's David Millar is fourth, 3:17 back, followed by Armstrong. Contador is seventh, 3:24 behind.
The spills wreaked havoc on organizers and riders alike.
After Schleck dropped several minutes behind the pack -- threatening his Tour title ambitions -- the main bunch appeared to slow down, with Saxo Bank teammate Cancellara at the front.
Between Schleck, under an escort from his older brother and teammate Frank, and Chavanel's group at the front, the pack was confused on how to respond in a sporting and competitive way.
"There was a group up the road; we didn't know what to do," Armstrong said. "The Schlecks were behind, some other guys were behind. It was sort of a conflict about what to do then."
Cancellara, who as race leader can act as spokesman for the pack, asked Tour organizers not to award points for a final sprint out of respect for the fallen riders, course director Jean-Francois Pescheux said. Tour organizers called it a show of good sportsmanship.
That request, made with 1.2 miles left, was honored by the race jury and, in effect, slowed the finish. The decision will deprive some sprinters of points in the competition for the green jersey, which is awarded to the race's best sprinter.
After two straight stages with multiple crashes, Tuesday's route takes riders on what had already been billed as the most treacherous in the first week one -- a 132-mile ride from Wanze Arenberg to Porte du Hainaut, featuring seven bumpy cobblestone patches.
The Tour ends July 25 in Paris.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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