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Crash course

Petacchi wins Tour stage; Armstrong caught in huge pile-up

Posted: Sunday July 06, 2003 11:32 AM
Updated: Sunday July 06, 2003 1:43 PM
  Alessandro Petacchi Alessandro Petacchi claimed his first ever Tour stage win. AP

MEAUX, France (AP) -- Four-time champion Lance Armstrong was thrown from his bike but not seriously hurt in a dramatic crash involving a gaggle of riders sprinting for the finish line in the first full stage Sunday of the Tour de France.

U.S. rider Tyler Hamilton, a former teammate of Armstrong's now cycling for the Danish CSC team, fractured a collarbone in the pileup, Tour doctors said. Hamilton, previously considered a potential rival to Armstrong, looked doubtful for the rest of the Tour.

"It doesn't look good," said Brian Nygaard, a spokesman for the team. He said a team doctor would examine Hamilton before deciding whether he was fit to continue.

Alessandro Petacchi of Italy, just ahead of the pack that crashed, won the stage into the town of Meaux. He immediately blamed Tour organizers for the pileup, saying the corner where the accident took place just a few hundred meters (yards) from the finish line was dangerous.

"We're arriving at 70 kilometers an hour (43 miles an hour) in the last corner and we see here, as with the Tour of Italy, that things have not improved," said Petacchi, 29, who rides for Italy's Fassa Bortolo team.

"We're made to wear a helmet, but then they give us a dangerous corner so close to the finish. That's something that should not be on the route in such an important race as the Tour de France," he said.

The Tour's competition director, Jean-Francois Pescheux, denied that the course was at fault, saying: "If people tell me today that it was dangerous, then they should stop cycling."

A Spanish rider, Jose Enrique Gutierrez, was first to go down, slipping in the turn. Other riders, cycling virtually flat-out, piled into him. In all, about 35 riders fell. They included Armstrong, who is vying for a record-tying fifth consecutive title. Many others were blocked behind the mass of fallen riders and bikes.

Tour doctors said five riders were taken to a hospital for X-rays, including Hamilton. A French rider, Jimmy Casper, hurt his neck but X-rays and a brain scan found no serious injuries.

Armstrong completed the race on the bike of his U.S. Postal teammate, Jose Luis Rubiera. Armstrong had a flat, and the wheel wouldn't turn, so Rubiera got off his bike and handed it to Armstrong.

"I don't know who else was involved, but that was one hell of a crash," Armstrong said. "It is never good to crash, but it wasn't that bad. We all just fell over and got piled on top of."

"It kind of makes for a hard day but it's good to get the first one (stage) over with. Unfortunately, we had a bad ending at the end of it, but it's OK."

The 31-year-old Texan bruised his right thigh and scratched his left shoulder, said U.S. Postal team spokesman Jogi Muller. Armstrong held his hand to his back as he later boarded the team bus. (Armstrong bruised, angry)

Two of his U.S. Postal teammates also went down. George Hincapie suffered cuts on his left knee, and Vjatceslav Ekimov suffered scratches, Muller said.

Before the race, Armstrong said his goal for the day was to stay out of trouble and save his strength for a team time-trial later in the week and punishing mountain stages, where he often leaves rivals in his wake.

"It's a dangerous week, as we all know, and you need to avoid problems and accidents," he said.

Petacchi beat out Robbie McEwen of Australia in the dash for the finish. German Erik Zabel was third. Petacchi covered the 168-kilometer (104-mile) course in 3 hours, 44 minutes and 33 seconds. McEwen and Zabel were just behind. (Full Results | Overall Standings)

Australian Bradley McGee retained the yellow jersey awarded to the overall leader. McGee won the Tour's first event, an individual race against the clock over 6.5 kilometers (4.03 miles) in Paris on Saturday.

Armstrong is eighth in the overall standings, with 19 days of racing left to go.

Sunday's stage started from Le Reveil Matin, a restaurant in the southeastern Paris suburb of Montgeron. The first Tour started there in 1903. Today, the restaurant serves French cuisine and Tex-Mex.

From there, the riders first cycled south before turning east and then north to finish in Meaux, a town of 50,000 people known for its Brie cheese and mustard. Meaux is about 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Paris. The Tour has never stopped here before.

The route took the riders past ripened fields of golden wheat, the lush green forest of Fontainebleau and through picturesque villages. Waving fans along the route cheered the riders on.

Before the race, the riders first gathered at the Stade de France, the stadium in northern Paris that hosted the 1998 soccer World Cup final, and paraded from there through Paris to the start at Montgeron.

On Monday, the Tour's third day, the riders cover 204.5 kilometers (126.8 miles), skirting Champagne country and the cathedral town of Reims, where French kings were crowned. They finish in Sedan, a town on the border with Belgium where German troops broke through during their invasion of France in 1940.

 
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