Bumpy­road

Lance Arm­strong hangs tough in fourth place as crashes mar fi­nal miles of Stage 1

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Suzanne Hal­libur­ton AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN STAFF

‘It shows you how crazy it’s go­ing to be. When you get mil­lions and mil­lions of peo­ple on the road, it’s both a bless­ing and a curse.’

LANCE ARM­STRONG,

on the crash near the fin­ish of Sun­day’s Stage 1, which left many rid­ers blood­ied and bruised

BRUS­SELS — Acom­bi­na­tion of jit­tery rid­ers and hun­dreds of thou­sands of fans cre­ated mass chaos on the fi­nal sharp turns of the Tour de France’s Stage 1 on Sun­day.

And the samemay be in store to­day for Lance Arm­strong and the rest of the pelo­ton as the race con­tin­ued its rush through the tight roads of cy­cling-crazy Bel­gium.

There were three crashes in the fi­nal 11⁄ miles, as the pelo­ton

2 sprinted en masse to­ward the fin­ish here. Only about 40 rid­ers emerged un­scathed.

The stage was won by Ital­ian sprinter Alessandro Pe­tac­chi, who is mak­ing his first ap­pear­ance at the Tour in six years. Mark Cavendish, who won six such sprint­ing stages a year ago, was the first ca­su­alty in the crash­scarred stretch.

The stand­ingsmostly re­mained un­changed. Fabian Can­cel­lara of Switzer­land­will con­tinue towear the yel­low jersey for to­day’s 125mile trek south­east from­Brus­sels through rolling val­leys to Spa, a

town fa­mous for its casino, bot­tled wa­ter and “beauty farms.”

Arm­strong still was in fourth and the best-placed rider among those who are con­sid­ered fa­vorites to win the yel­low jersey. He was forced to stop af­ter the sec­ond crash, but he did not fall.

Two of his key team­mates — Levi Leipheimer and An­dreas Klö­den — suf­fered mul­ti­ple con­tu­sions ear­lier in the stage, when an un­leashed dog wan­dered onto the road just as the rid­ers ap­proached. The dog was too scared to move as the rid­ers whizzed past.

Typ­i­cally, the yel­low-jersey con­tenders ride to­ward the front for much of a flat stage, then drift to the back as all­out sprint­ers be­gin throw­ing el­bows and lean­ing into each other for an ad­van­tage at the end.

“Ev­ery­body’s OK,” Arm­strong said of his Team Ra­dioShack. “It shows you how crazy it’s go­ing to be. When you get mil­lions and mil­lions of peo­ple on the road, it’s both a bless­ing and a curse.”

The Tour doesn’t sell tick­ets, so it is dif­fi­cult to ac­cu­rately gauge how many peo­ple watch road­side. But the crowds were thick in Rotterdam when the stage started at noon at the Eras­mus Bridge, and con­tin­ued to swell as the pelo­ton swung west to­ward the North Sea, then south to Brus­sels.

Fans were 10 deep on the fi­nal stretch, which fea­tured two abrupt changes in di­rec­tion. By the end of the stage, there were so many fans clog­ging the road that rid­ers barely could get to their buses.

The same tricky sit­u­a­tion holds for to­day’s stage: There are two hair­pin turns in the last three miles.

Pe­tac­chi used an un­usual but ef­fec­tive strat­egy to win the fi­nal sprint Sun­day. He started wide, then bolted to­ward the mid­dle of the road, sur­viv­ing to claim his fifth ca­reer Tour stage win.

“It was a spe­cial fi­nale. In the last turn, ev­ery­body came in fast and no­body wanted to brake, so there was a crash and a lot of con­fu­sion,” Pe­tac­chi said. “I did a very risky sprint.

“I think I’ve done a great sprint. I’m not sure that Cavendish would have beat me if he’d been there at the end be­cause I’ve re­ally done a great sprint.”

Amer­i­can Tyler Far­rar, who wanted a vic­tory on the Fourth of July, was in po­si­tion for the win un­til the fi­nal crash. He walked part of the way to the fin­ish line since his bike was too dam­aged to ride.

“Ev­ery­one’s so ner­vous,” Far­rar said.

Rob­bie McEwen, an­other Tour sprint­ing star, guessed that a lot of the rid­ers didn’t study the Tour’s road book, which pro­vides de­tails of the fi­nal twists and turns of each stage.

“I think what you saw to­day was some of the guys un­der­es­ti­mated a corner or two,” McEwen said.

Per­haps they won’t do so to­day.

Bas Czerwinski

Lance Arm­strong, cen­ter, rides in the pack Sun­day dur­ing the first stage of the Tour de France. Arm­strong is in fourth place af­ter the chaotic stage, 22 sec­onds off the lead.

Fabian Can­cel­lara keeps the yel­low jersey and a lead of 10 sec­onds.

Lau­rent Rebours

Alessandro Pe­tac­chi of Italy, right, crosses the fin­ish line on Sun­day to win the first stage of the Tour de France. Mark Ren­shaw of Aus­tralia, left, fin­ished sec­ond in the stage.

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