Lance avoids crashes at TDF
Belgium - Lance Armstrong was happy for his last Tour de France to continue injury free after several other high-profile riders went down on a first stage marred by crashes Sunday.
Armstrong had his share of crashes since he returned to competition last season, breaking a collarbone last year before injuring his left elbow at the Tour of California in May.
The 38-year-old Texan didn't fall so often during his heyday - when he won seven consecutive Tours from 1999 to 2005 - and critics quickly said his latest crashes indicated he had lost his racing science during his 3-1/2 year of retirement.
But the seven-time Tour champion, competing in the three-week race for the last time, avoided the three crashes on the final two kilometers of the 223.5-kilometer stage between Rotterdam, Netherlands, and Brussels.
Armstrong, who lies fourth overall, avoided danger when a group of crashed just in front of him, stopping just in time to avoid a fall. His biggest rival, defending champion Alberto Contador, scraped a leg by bumping a bike in front as he braked furiously.
Armstrong, who finished third in last year's Tour, leads Contador by 5 seconds after Sunday's stage won by Alessandro Petacchi of Italy.
"That was total mayhem, definitely in the finish but actually all day," Armstrong said. "Typical first stage, everybody wants to be in front, everybody is nervous for crashes. We even had a dog running in the group in the beginning that caused a big crash with a couple of our guys."
Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso and third-placed David Millar fell off their bikes after the dog ran into the peloton.
"Probably the most dangerous thing today was the public, I crashed early on because there were moments the public came leaning right out into the road," said Millar, who banged his knee. "But we were pretty lucky, if there was the usual wind there would have been absolute carnage."
Armstrong's team-mates Andreas Kloeden, Levi Leipheimer and Janez Brajkovic were among the riders who crashed but Armstrong said they were all fine.
"Everybody is OK. It just shows how crazy it's gonna be on Tuesday," the cancer survivor said about the race's third stage that will feature seven dangerous and treacherous cobblestone sectors.
"Same situation, very small roads. A lot of turns, the nerves and the intensity will be high."
Like Millar, Armstrong said the large amount of people on the roads was a real problem.
"Millions and millions on the road, it's a blessing and a curse," Armstrong said. "It's so great to have so many supporters and it also makes the guys super nervous."
Petacchi, who was stripped of his five stage wins in the 2007 Giro d'Italia for excessive use of an asthma drug, claimed his first win on the Tour in seven years.
Competing in his first Tour since 2004, he won his fifth stage overall ahead of Mark Renshaw of Australia and Thor Hushovd of Norway.
The overall standings remained unchanged with Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland leading Germany's Tony Martin by 10 seconds. Millar is third, 20 seconds off the pace, ahead of Armstrong, who is trailing another two seconds back.
Armstrong crossed in 55th place Sunday, Contador was 44th and Cancellara, who also crashed, trailed in 130th. They were given the same time as Petacchi under race rules that award riders in the pack the same time if a crash takes place in the main group within the last two miles.
"At the end I couldn't do anything. I had to brake hard, and ended up doing a bit of a somersault once I landed," said Cancellara. "Now with the time passing I feel like my shoulder and my whole left side are hurting."
Armstrong impressed all pundits with a strong performance in Saturday's prologue, where he beat his bitter rival and former teammate Contador by 5 seconds. Contador played down the importance of this minor gap and Armstrong agreed.
"Five seconds in the scope of three weeks is terribly nothing. I don't want to instil the rivalry any more than it already is," Armstrong said when asked about the psychological advantage he now has on Contador.
RadioShack sports director Johan Bruyneel however said Armstrong's powerful display was good omen for the rest of the race.
"For Lance it was a morale-boosting thing," Bruyneel said. "It was his first good time trial since his return and it was the first time he beat Contador. He was very happy."
The first crash in the build-up to the sprint happened in a turn when Mark Cavendish and Jeremy Hunt collided. Cavendish was at the heart of a controversy last month at the Tour of Switzerland where he was made responsible of a massive crash after he suddenly changed his line just before the finish line.
"It's bike racing. I don't know what happened there. I'm okay," said Cavendish, who won six stages in last year's Tour.
Monday's second stage is a 201-kilometer ride from Brussels to Spa that follows some parts of the Walloon Arrow and Liege-Bastogne-Liege one-day classics.