A second day of spectacular crashes on the Tour de France involving British favourite Bradley Wiggins, American champion Lance Armstrong and last year's runner-up, Andy Schleck, saw the main contenders call a truce and cross the finish line grouped together behind stage winner Sylvain Chavanel.
While Sunday's three pile-ups all came over two kilometres in the centre of Brussels, yesterday's mayhem largely took place on a single steep, narrow descent of the Stockeu hill deep in the Ardennes. On a badly-cambered, rain-soaked corner, a rider skidded, causing the pack to crumple up behind him, some flying down grass banks, others slamming onto the tarmac.
Luxembourg's Schleck and his brother Frank looked to be the most affected, Andy clutching his left arm with his bloodied right. But as Armstrong, who fell ripping his shorts and grazing one hip, said afterwards, "there were riders down everywhere. It was like a war. There was crash after crash after crash. I was scared."
With the peloton split into five on the descent, race leader Fabian Cancellara insisted on a truce being called, and the bunch eased up to try to reform. A group containing favourite Alberto Contador – who had to drop back to change his bike, damaged in the crashes – and Armstrong was the first to join following a frantic chase, and the 140-strong main group finally crossed the line together. "That descent from the Stockeu had become a skating rink and they reached an unofficial agreement to neutralise the stage," said race organiser, Jean-Francois Pescheux. Wiggins sustained a scratch on his elbow and knee but should be fine to continue today.
Appropriately, the victory went to the Frenchman Chavanel, whose career came close to ending two months ago when he skidded off the road a few kilometres away from today's finish in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège race, fracturing his skull. The last survivor of an eight-man daylong break, Chavanel soloed away 15 kilometres from the finish before making a series of prolonged victory salutes.
"I won fair and square," the Quick Step rider said. "But all the crashes behind and the truce certainly didn't do my chances any harm, either."Reuse content