Tour organizers plead not guilty after first-stage crashPosted: Monday July 07, 2003 10:35 AM
SEDAN, France (Reuters) -- Two days into the Tour de France, the race has lost two of its favorites and the star of the show was caught in a nasty crash, but organizers have pleaded not guilty.
American Levi Leipheimer, eighth last year, was forced out of the Tour with a hip injury along with Dutch teammate Marc Lotz after Sunday's crash at the end of stage one.
Tyler Hamilton, of the United States, started Monday with a broken collarbone but looked out of contention for overall victory.
Both Leipheimer and Hamilton were former teammates and leading rivals of Lance Armstrong, whose ambitions of a record-equalling fifth win could have been shattered had his crash injuries been more serious.
The Texan escaped with minor bruises but was still very angry at organizers.
"Things like this make me angry but it's always the same in the first week of the Tour," he said.
But Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc said organizers were not to blame as the incident was caused by Spaniard Jose-Enrique Gutierrez, who had a problem with his pedal in the final stretch and crashed in the middle of the bunch.
"The crash was caused by an outside cause, a rider lost his pedals. Of course I regret what happened to Hamilton and Leipheimer.
"But there is so much at stake in the Tour these days that riders take high risks," he said.
Italian Alessandro Petacchi, winner of the stage, also criticized organisers for placing a corner some 400 meters before the finish line.
"We are forced to wear helmets for safety and they put a corner like this so close to a finish when guys sprint at 70 kph. I can't understand it," he said.
Leblanc, himself a former rider, said that the finish of the stage in Meaux was not dangerous.
"It was not a corner but a curve," said Leblanc.
"Everything was shown in detail in the road book. If I had to reply to Petacchi, I'd insist that this curve was not dangerous.
"I want to remind you that the Milan-San Remo classic finishes with a long stretch and there are many crashes too.
"When there is a lot of emotion like this, people tend to look for responsibilities and turn to organizers.
"The people who design stage finishes are former riders who have done this for 15 years and their competence cannot be questioned," he said.
Serious crashes at the end of Tour stages are nothing new. In 1994 in Armentieres, Frenchman Laurent Jalabert had to be taken to hospital with a broken jaw after colliding with a policeman while sprinting for the line.
In 1999, Italian Giuseppe Guerini hit a spectator taking a picture in the middle of the road as he was leading the race.
In 1991, Uzbek Djamolidine Abdoujaparov hit a fence when sprinting for victory in the last stage on the Champs Elysee and crashed heavily.
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