Tour rest day welcome after crash carnage
Saint-Flour, France: The bleeding and battered Tour de France had a welcome day off after its worst round yet of crashes, a strange and dangerous ordeal in which a car took out riders.
Riders and fans were shocked by images of Johnny Hoogerland soaring off his bike and scraping a barbed wire fence Sunday, after he and another rider were sideswiped by a media vehicle on the narrow course.
Riders were scathing in their criticism after the crash, which incredibly wasn`t the first time this tour that a rider has been driven into by a press vehicle.
"I feel so sorry for Johnny. This is a scandal what happen," Swiss champion Fabian Cancellara said in a message to his Twitter followers after the race.
Spain`s Luis Leon Sanchez won the ninth stage on a day full of wild crashes, while France`s Thomas Voeckler finished second to take the leader`s yellow jersey from Thor Hushovd.
Sanchez was second overall, followed by Australia`s Cadel Evans.
"I`m so happy to win this stage as it was important for me and my whole team," Sanchez said through a translator. "It was really a hard stage today. The roads were thin the whole day long."
Veteran Kazakh rider Alexandre Vinokourov withdrew after crashing near the halfway point of the 129-mile route from Issoire to Saint-Flour in the Massif Central.
Spain`s Juan Antonio Flecha was hit by a car late on, and took down Hoogerland with him as he flew sideways off his saddle. Both got up and kept riding. Defending champion Alberto Contador fell early on, but the Spaniard was unharmed and rode on.
"Even before the accident a lot of cars brushed right past us," Sanchez said. "I understand that guests want to have a close look at the race, but we need to get a message across to the organizers so that the drivers are more careful."
Flecha didn`t speak to reporters as he boarded his team bus. Sky`s team manager, Dave Brailsford, is considering a formal complaint.
"We might bring the matter forward tomorrow, but tonight we are not making comments," Brailsford said.
Hushovd had worn the yellow jersey since July 3 when his Garmin-Cervelo team won the team time trial, but the burly sprinter looked tired as he rolled over the line several minutes behind Voeckler. Voeckler once defended the yellow jersey for nine days during the 2004 Tour, but he couldn`t match Sanchez as he turned out of a corner and accelerated in the last 300 yards.
"These are good times. I wouldn`t have bet on taking the yellow jersey today," Voeckler said. "Time passes and I appreciate this one even more."
Frenchman Sandy Casar finished third, and all three had been part of a breakaway early in the stage.
Flecha and Hoogerland had also formed part of the same early break, but their chances of a stage victory ended with about 22 miles to go when a Tour car swerved into Flecha`s side. Neither rider appeared badly hurt.
Vinokourov, who has said he will retire from cycling at the end of the season, was caught in a heavy crash that sent him and about 30 other riders tumbling like a house of cards. Several other riders retired as well.
Vinokourov was carried up a small bank by an Astana teammate and staff member. They had rushed to him as he lay next to a tree. They helped him to his feet by putting their arms around him.
Contador, having survived that early scare, stayed bunched in with the main pack, along with other Tour contenders such as Evans and Andy Schleck. They all crossed the line safely, choosing not to chase Voeckler - who is not a Tour contender.
Voeckler and Casar, both former stage winners, increased the tempo in the first big climb of the day — the 4.8-mile ascent up Col du Pas de Peyrol. The small front group was more than 3 minutes ahead when it reached the top.
As the pack approached Col du Perthus, a mass crash had stricken riders. Among them were Jurgen Van Den Broeck and Frederik Willems, both Belgians on Omega Pharma-Lotto`s team, and American David Zabriskie of the Garmin-Cervelo team. All three were injured and quit the race.
At the front of the peloton, in a show of solidarity, Philippe Gilbert and Fabian Cancellara asked the pack to wait for other fallen riders, including Garmin-Cervelo`s David Millar, who struggled on.
That extended the lead of the front five riders — and Voeckler`s group was more than 7 minutes in front after completing the 2.7-mile Col du Perthus. Voeckler and Hoogerland took turns going in front down the descents and up smaller climbs, with Casar, Sanchez and Flecha still in the mini-group of five.
After completing the final tough climb of the day up Col de Prat de Bouc, Voeckler`s group led the pack by 4:40.
After a Tour car took down Flecha and Hoogerland — who just scraped a barbed wire fence — three riders were left to contest the stage, which culminated in a short, twisty and sharp climb to Saint-Flour.
"It`s a shame for them because they rode hard with us all day," Sanchez said. "It`s a pity they had to give up the stage win because of the crash."