Brussels: Italy’s Alessandro Petacchi survived a crash-filled first stage of the Tour de France on Sunday to win his fifth stage victory in the race and his first for seven years.
The Italian, now the most successful active rider with 155 career wins, beat Australian Mark Renshaw and Norway’s Thor Hushovd on a finish line depleted of most of the favourites who had crashed in the final kilometres.
Petacchi, 36, won four stages on the Tour in 2003 and he probably expected more opposition at the end of a 223.5-km ride from Rotterdam to Brussels.
Renshaw is on the Tour to help Columbia team leader Mark Cavendish but the Briton, who won six stages last year, went out of contention with 2.5 kms to go when he missed a sharp turn and crashed, along with three-times world champion Oscar Freire.
Sunday’s final pile-up was huge and involved another pre-stage favourite, American Tylar Farrar and the yellow jersey holder, Swiss Fabian Cancellara.
“The stage was nervous all day but the end was madness. It was chaos,” Cancellara, the prologue winner, said.
All the favourites, including Tour champion Alberto Contador and seven-times champion Lance Armstrong, finally crossed the line unhurt.
Briton David Millar and Italian Ivan Basso were involved in a crash midway through the stage when a dog ran into the peloton. Both men got back on their bikes and caught up with the main bunch.
Australia’s Adam Hansen, another of Cavendish’s team mates, broke his collarbone in another incident.