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Wrecks mar Tour de France’s sixth stage

METZ, France – A chaotic crash at the Tour de France marred Friday’s sixth stage and dealt a heavy blow to the U.S. Garmin-Sharp team.

Young Slovak sensation Peter Sagan avoided the cross-the-road pile-up to claim his third stage win in a sprint finish. Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland also rode clear of the mess to retain the yellow jersey.

The 129-mile ride from Epernay to Metz got off in the Champagne region of France as roadside fans held aloft glasses of bubbly to cheer on the riders.

But as the pack picked up speed to chase four breakaway riders with about 16 miles to go, at least two dozen riders spilled across a rural road – leaving many downed, dazed or looking for team staffers for support in a jumble of injured riders and bikes on the ground.

“It was like a trench hit by a (grenade) when I entered the crash to give my bike to Bauke,” said Rabobank’s Laurens Ten Dam on his Twitter account of the crash and his teammate Bauke Mollema. “Lots of blood and screaming. Carnage.”

The Garmin squad, riding in formation, bore the brunt.

Tom Danielson, who finished in last year’s Tour in eighth place, was already nursing a separated shoulder from a crash earlier in the week.

In Friday’s spill, he was briefly knocked unconscious, and later rushed to a hospital for hip, collarbone and elbow injuries. He was one of at least four riders to drop out of the race because of the crash.

“It was the scariest crash I’ve ever been in,” Garmin veteran David Millar said.

Millar had black marks of chain-grease all over his arm and said the riders were going at least (43 miles) an hour when the crash occurred.

“God knows how it happened,” Millar said.

Meanwhile, Garmin’s Ryder Hesjedal of Canada – the winner of the Giro d’Italia in May – injured his knee and lost more than 13 minutes in the hunt for the title, all but quashing his podium ambitions. He had started the stage in ninth place, 18 seconds back.

Two other contenders, Bradley Wiggins and defending champion Cadel Evans, escaped unscathed.

Overall, Cancellara leads ahead of Wiggins – a prerace favorite, hoping to become the first Briton ever to win the Tour – by 7 seconds. Evans climbed one spot to sixth, and is 17 seconds back, after Edvald Boassen Hagen of Norway lost more than 2 minutes in a crash.

The peloton, led by sprint teams from Orica-GreenEdge and Lotto-Belisol, then caught four breakaway riders with just over a mile to go. Andre Greipel of Germany, who is hoping for a third consecutive stage win, was the first to make a move in the final section, but couldn’t resist Sagan’s surge. “I was in a good position, I kept it and then nothing hampered my effort,” Sagan said. “I took Greipel’s wheel and everything went according to plan.”

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