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