CANTERBURY, England – Lance Armstrong knew a thing or two about bouncing back from a crash to win a Tour de France stage.
On Sunday, Robbie McEwen – bruised and aching after tumbling over his handlebars – showed he does, too.
The Australian sprinter won the first stage of cycling’s premier event with a display of grit that can only serve the sport well as it tries to rehabilitate its image after assorted doping scandals.
McEwen was timed in 4 hours, 39 minutes, 1 second for the mostly flat 126-mile ride to Canterbury from London, where the Tour began Saturday with a time-trial prologue. Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara kept the overall lead, but he is not expected to contend in the three-week race.
With 12 miles to go, McEwen was forced to brake because of riders ahead. He was hit from behind by a cyclist and sent sprawling to the road.
Pressing on despite a sore right wrist and cuts on his right knee, McEwen was escorted by his Predictor Lotto teammates through the final yards.
“This is definitely one of the best ever,” McEwen said. “After the crash, I hurt myself – hurt my wrist – but the boys brought me back. I still can’t believe I won this stage.”
“The first thing I thought was that I had broken my wrist,” he added. “I couldn’t feel anything.”
Then the pangs began.
“It’s worth that pain to have a stage win in the Tour de France,” he said.
The perseverance recalled Armstrong’s effort in the Pyrenees in 2003. He tumbled to the ground when his handlebars caught a fan’s bag, got back up and rode like a man possessed to win the stage. It was a turning point for the fifth of Armstrong’s record seven consecutive Tour victories.
This was the 12th stage win on the Tour for McEwen, who was followed by Norway’s Thor Hushovd in second place and Belgium’s Tom Boonen.
McEwen tied Germany’s Erik Zabel for the most stage victories among current riders. But they’re well short of the career mark of 34 by Eddy Merckx. Armstrong won 22.
Cancellara, who earned the yellow jersey by winning the prologue, has an overall time of 4:47:51. Germany’s Andreas Kloeden, runner-up to Armstrong in the 2004 Tour, is second overall, 13 seconds back. He is followed by Britain’s David Millar, who is 21 seconds behind Cancellara.
This year, the expected contenders include Kloeden, Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan, Levi Leipheimer of the U.S., Cadel Evans of Australia and Alejandro Valverde of Spain. All are within 40 seconds of Cancellara.
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