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Top riders crash in Stage 2 of Tour de France

Christian Vande Velde, team leader of Colorado-based Garmin-Transitions, finishes the stage with two broken ribs and is out of the race. Favorites Andy Schleck and Lance Armstrong also go down.

July 05, 2010|By Diane Pucin

Reporting from Spa, Belgium — Blood was seeping from Andy Schleck, from his arms and legs and off some body parts of his brother Frank too.

On a rainy, slippery Belgian road the Schleck brothers of Luxembourg splattered themselves across the pavement, caught up in one of several crashes that happened in Monday's second stage of the Tour de France.

After some minutes Andy Schleck, one of the men tabbed as a prerace favorite, rose slowly. He was cradling his arm and climbed back on his bike as if propelled by remote control and not his senses.

Andy Schleck wasn't the only race favorite to crash Monday. Almost all of them did, including seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong, who had a bloody thigh and elbow to show for his meeting with the pavement, and four members of the Colorado-based Garmin-Transitions team.

Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel, who rides for Quick Step, a Belgian team, won the stage and took over momentary possession of the leader's yellow jersey. He led from almost start to finish on the 125-mile stage from Brussels to Spa.

Armstrong is fifth overall, 3 minutes, 19 seconds behind the leader, and defending champion Alberto Contador of Astana is seventh, five seconds behind Armstrong while Armstrong's RadioShack teammate Levi Leipheimer is eighth, another second behind Contador. Contador and Leipheimer also fell.

"There was something on the road," Armstrong said. "We could not stay on our bikes. I've never seen anything like that. As I got up and got going again it was a bit surreal. You got to the bottom [of the hill] to take stock of the situation and you didn't know what to do.

"I got some good abrasions. It was so slippery that there was not much impact, some swelling but mostly just road rash."

But Armstrong's team stayed intact. Garmin-Transitions was left decimated.

Team leader Christian Vande Velde of Lemont, Ill., is out of the race, and he was one of three Garmin riders who ended up at a local hospital to be evaluated. Vande Velde finished the stage with two broken ribs. Tyler Farrar of Wentachee, Wash., fractured his left wrist and Julian Dean of New Zealand bruised his upper back.

"Riders crashed in front of me and I wasn't able to avoid them so I went down," Vande Velde said. "I felt OK and got back on. Then another rider lost control in front of me and, again, I couldn't avoid it. I crashed and landed in a ditch. I'm not sure what I hit; I think it might have been a pole."

A fourth Garmin rider, veteran David Millar, also crashed twice and described the scene on the road as, "One of my top-five worst days on a bike, ever.

"I could see Lance fall about 10 places in front of me on a straight road. When I saw that happen, I knew something wasn't right," Millar said. After his second crash Millar said, "I got up, fixed my bike myself and then I tiptoed down the descent, surveying the absolute carnage that was the Tour de France peloton and wondering what was going on."

All this destruction hadn't been predicted to happen until Tuesday during the 132-mile stage from Wanze in Belgium to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut in France that includes a famous section of cobblestones.

The cobblestones will be about seven miles and the shaking can not only toss riders to the ground but also puncture the thin tires or bend the slight frames of the bikes.

The bumpy ride over those stones might be particularly painful to the bruised riders.

It was during the third stage last year when Armstrong made a sudden move and almost grabbed the lead when he took advantage of a violent shift in the winds in the Camargue area of southern France.

Armstrong had been noticed earlier in the month practicing on the cobblestones, but in the crash-marred first two stages it has been shown that even preparation can't stop all the unexpected occurrences.

Johan Bruyneel, the manager for Team RadioShack, expressed sentiments felt by many riders and managers. "I'm going to be happy to get out of this nervousness and get to racing straight on," he said.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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