SPA, Belgium – On a day of chaos and crashes, riders tumbled like dominoes in the rain and littered the road in a scene Lance Armstrong called “surreal.”
The seven-time champion did not escape the mayhem at the Tour de France on Monday. He was left searching for his bike, nursing scrapes and bruises to his hip and elbow and joking about the decision to come out of retirement.
He was in good company, joining dozens of riders who hit the asphalt on a slippery downhill some likened to ice skating.
Sylvain Chavanel of France was among few to avoid trouble. He sped to victory after breaking away early in the 125-mile trip from Brussels to Spa and taking the yellow jersey from Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara. With the pack banged-up, he finished nearly four minutes ahead.
With so many riders down in crashes, organizers said they briefly considered canceling the stage altogether. But under race rules, the spills were too spread out to warrant a cancellation.
Armstrong returned to the RadioShack bus with his outfit torn, a bloody scrape on his thigh and an injured elbow.
“You had people everywhere. It was surreal. When I got back on my bike … I saw crash, after crash, after crash,” Armstrong said, noting he saw riders laid out on the ground. “It was like war.”
Chavanel began the stage in 87th place and knocked everyone on the leaderboard down a notch: Cancellara dropped to second, 2 minutes, 57 seconds behind. Germany’s Tony Martin is third, 3:07 back.
Armstrong sits fifth, 3:19 back, and defending champion Alberto Contador of Spain is seventh, 3:24 behind. The Spanish two-time Tour winner bruised his right hip, knee and elbow.
Some riders believed a motorcycle crash in the race caravan before the pack passed left oil on the road, creating an especially slick mix with the rain.
It was on the descent from the midlevel Stockeu Pass that Armstrong, Contador and 2009 runner-up Andy Schleck all went down.
Everybody finished, except French rider Mickael Delage, who slammed into a road barrier early in the stage and was taken to a hospital with a concussion, a broken bone in his face and shoulder, knee and hand injuries.
On the Garmin-Transitions team alone, Americans Tyler Farrar (Wenatchee) and Christian Vande Velde and Julian Dean of New Zealand were taken to a hospital. Vande Velde, who suffered two broken ribs, was pulled from the race. Farrar, who started the stage in 7th, came out of it in 182nd, 18:32 behind Chavanel.
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