|American Tyler Farrar was one of many riders licking their wounds yesterday. (Bas Czerwinski/Associated Press)|
Armstrong suffers minor bumps, bruises
SPA, Belgium — On a day of chaos and crashes, riders tumbled like dominoes in the rain and littered the road in a scene Lance Armstrong called “surreal.’’
The seven-time champion did not escape the mayhem at the Tour de France yesterday. He was left searching for his bike, nursing scrapes and bruises to his hip and elbow, and joking about the decision to come out of retirement.
He was in good company, joining dozens of riders who hit the asphalt on a slippery downhill run some likened to ice skating.
Sylvain Chavanel of France was among few to avoid trouble. He sped to victory after breaking away early in the 125-mile trip from Brussels to Spa and taking the yellow jersey from Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara. With the pack banged-up, he finished nearly four minutes ahead.
With so many riders down in crashes, organizers said they briefly considered canceling the stage altogether. But under the rules, the spills were too spread out to warrant a cancellation.
Armstrong returned to the
“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.’’
Chavanel began the stage in 87th place and knocked everyone on the leaderboard down a notch: Cancellara dropped to second, 2 minutes and 57 seconds behind. Germany’s Tony Martin is third, 3:07 back.
Armstrong sits fifth, 3:19 back, and defending champion Alberto Contador of Spain is seventh, 3:24 behind. The Spanish two-time Tour winner bruised his right hip, knee, and elbow but was expected to start today.
Some riders believed a motorcycle crash in the race caravan before the pack passed left oil on the road, creating an especially slick mix with the rain.
On the descent from the midlevel Stockeu Pass, Armstrong, Contador, and 2009 runner-up Andy Schleck all went down. Armstrong said he knew he was not badly hurt, but he did have other concerns.
“I knew I was fine,’’ he said. “My first thought was: ‘Where is my bike?’ I tried to find my bike. You know in the rain these guys are very good downhill. I’m not one of them. But even the good ones, with something like that: No chance. Absolutely no chance.’’
Everybody finished, except French rider Mickael Delage, who slammed into a road barrier early in the stage. The Omega Pharma-Lotto rider was taken to a hospital with a concussion, a broken bone in his face, and shoulder, knee, and hand injuries.
Scrapes and bruises were reported by the dozens, and nearly every team was affected. Some riders estimated at least half the 194-rider peloton had fallen. A post-stage medical report listed 23 as at least slightly injured during the day.
“Riding downhill was almost like ice skating,’’ said Johan Bruyneel, the RadioShack manager and Armstrong’s longtime mentor. Teammates Andreas Kloeden and Levi Leipheimer fell. “Almost half of the peloton crashed,’’ Bruyneel said.
Armstrong was already lucky to have avoided six crashes in Sunday’s first stage. The mishaps have injected drama into the first week of racing even before its most dreaded test: Today’s run on seven patches of cobblestones.
The third stage takes the pack over the bone- and bike-jarring cobbles during the 132-mile ride from Wanze Arenberg to Porte du Hainaut.
Armstrong has predicted “carnage’’ on his Twitter account — and that was before the disorder of the last two days.
“Almost all day, I wondered why I came off the beach,’’ Armstrong cracked, reiterating that this Tour will be his last. “But I’ll be back at it [today].’’