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Angry Armstrong

Tour champion bruised, annoyed after mass pile-up

Posted: Sunday July 06, 2003 1:11 PM
Updated: Sunday July 06, 2003 1:58 PM

MEAUX, France (Reuters) -- Defending champion Lance Armstrong escaped with only slight injuries from the crash which marred the end of the first stage of the Tour de France.

Spaniard Jose-Enrique Gutierrez crashed as the tightly-packed bunch was speeding to the finish of the 168-km stage in Meaux causing dozens of riders to fall.

Although he only suffered a bruised lower leg and grazed arm, Armstrong was angry about what had happened.

"I was in about 25th place. I didn't see what caused the crash, I just went down and other riders fell on top of me," the American said.

"Things like this make me angry but it's always like this in the first week of the Tour. Everybody fights to try and stay near the front of the race."

Armstrong, aiming to become the fifth man to win five Tour titles, was forced to change bicycles after the crash.

But did he not lose any time in the overall standings because the incident occurred in the final kilometer of the stage, meaning all the riders involved were given the same time as winner Alessandro Petacchi.

Other crash victims included American Tyler Hamilton, who fractured his collarbone and was expected to withdraw from the race, compatriot Levi Leipheimer, Frenchman Jimmy Casper and Italian Gilberto Simoni.

Broken collarbone ends Hamilton's Tour hopes

MEAUX, France (Reuters) -- American Tyler Hamilton's hopes of challenging former teammate and compatriot Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France were shattered Sunday when he broke his collarbone in a crash near the end of the first stage.

The CSC team leader, a versatile rider who finished second in the Giro d'Italia last year, was caught up in the massive crash which marred the finish of the 168-km stage in Meaux.

Spaniard Jose-Enrique Gutierrez was the first to crash and dozens of riders followed suit, including four-times champion Armstrong.

Hamilton, 30, crossed the line holding his left shoulder and was taken to hospital where he was diagnosed as having a broken collarbone without dislocation.

The American was expected to announce his withdrawal from the race later Sunday, despite having shown great courage during competitions in the past.

The rider from Massachusetts has had previous shoulder problems.

He finished second in the Giro last year with a broken left shoulder and later broke his right collarbone in training for the Grand Prix Eddy Merckx in August 2002.

Another former Armstrong teammate, American Levi Leipheimer, who leads Dutch team Rabobank, is unlikely to continue but will first be examined by a doctor before pulling out, according to team director Theo de Rooy.

Petacchi emerges as new sprint king

MEAUX, France (Reuters) -- Six stage wins on the Giro d'Italia and one on the Tour de France have turned Alessandro Petacchi into the hottest sprinter in cycling.

"You know I'm not really pretentious. It's not up to me to say whether I'm the best sprinter in the world," said the Italian, who won the Tour's first stage in Meaux.

"But I certainly had the best sprint of my season today," he added.

Petacchi had already beaten world champion Mario Cipollini repeatedly in the Giro and on Sunday he humbled Australian Robbie McEwen and German Erik Zabel, the two sprinters who have dominated the Tour in recent years.

"I had already beaten McEwen in Paris-Nice but it can't compare to this," said the 29-year-old Italian.

"This win means that I confirmed my Giro victories. I needed to prove I also could win on the Tour and I did it."

Petacchi, who said he sometimes lacked a bit of confidence, did not want to start the Tour but was persuaded to change his mind by Fassa Bortolo team boss Paolo Fassa.

"It's one of my weaknesses. I'm not self confident enough at times. But when the race reaches the last 500 meters, then I fear nothing and nobody," he said.

Now Petacchi is greedier than ever and hungry for more.

"Now I'd like to go to the (Spanish) Vuelta to win a stage on the three big Tours," he said.

Petacchi's victory was tarnished by a bad crash 400 meters before the finish and although it happened behind the Italian he was angry about it.

"It was bound to happen when you have a corner like this so close to the finish with 200 guys sprinting at 70 kph.

"They force us to put helmets on for safety and put curves like this in the finish of a big race like the Tour. I can't understand it," he said.

Green jersey no consolation for McEwen

MEAUX, France (Reuters) -- Australia's Robbie McEwen pulled on the points competition leader's green jersey at the end of Sunday's Tour de France first stage but said it was little consolation for finishing second to Alessandro Petacchi.

"The green jersey is only a small consolation for not winning the stage. I really wanted to win and I'm disappointed because I won't have many more chances," said McEwen, who heads the points standings by one point from Petacchi.

McEwen avoided the crash near the finish which involved overall favorite Lance Armstrong and numerous other riders but was unable to beat Italy's Petacchi in the sprint to the line.

"It was a slightly uphill and very fast finish. I tried to keep in a good position but I made the small mistake of not sheltering from the wind on another rider's wheel and at this level of racing you pay for that," McEwen said.

"I'm feeling good and riding strong but I just didn't stay cool enough in the final kilometer. In the Tour de France sprints you only get one chance to do it right."

But McEwen was full of praise for his Italian rival.

"Alessandro Petacchi is very, very strong and he deserved to win.

"He didn't win six stages in the Giro for nothing. I knew he'd be the hardest to beat because he's always strong in the first sprint.

"I got third on the first day last year and this time I was second, so hopefully I can keep moving up," he said.

 
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