BRUSSELS // Alessandro Petacchi won the crash-marred first stage of the Tour de France yesterday, with top sprint rivals and overall contenders such as Lance Armstrong delayed by the spills. Three crashes tangled up riders in the last few kilometres, including a big crash within the last kilometre that stalled race leader Fabian Cancellara and Armstrong amid a large bunch.
The top of the standings did not change: Cancellara, the Swiss who won the prologue on Saturday, retained the yellow jersey and seven-time Tour champion Armstrong remained fourth, 22 seconds back. Alberto Contador, the 2009 champion, was sixth, 27 seconds behind, following the 225.5km trek through flat Belgian and Dutch lowlands from Rotterdam to Brussels. Armstrong did not go down in the crashes, but Cancellara did. "It was really nervous today, and at the end it was just insane," he said.
"At the end, I couldn't do anything. I was also in the chaos. I hit the ground pretty hard. Tomorrow I will feel the asphalt that I found at the end." Britain's Mark Cavendish, a sprinter who won six Tour stages last year, and Oscar Freire, of Spain, crashed while negotiating a sharp turn in the latter part of the stage. Then, in the last kilometre, a massive pileup left Petacchi, the Italian Lampre rider, with a relatively easy sprint to victory ahead of the 20 riders who were able to avoid the carnage.
Petacchi clocked 5hrs 9mins 38secs for the stage, screaming and thrusting his index fingers into the air as he crossed the finish. The 36-year-old is riding his first Tour since 2004 a year after he collected four stage victories. Britain's David Millar and the Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso crashed after a dog darted into the peloton around the 56km mark. They both got up and returned to the race.
Cavendish was without the services of one of his top lead-out men: HTC-Columbia teammate Adam Hansen of Australia fell in an early crash. Team officials said it was not clear what happened, but they suspected a broken left collarbone and said Hansen would go directly to the hospital after the stage. Alexander Pliuschin, the Moldavian champion, burst out of the pack with about 24km left to catch three breakaway riders who had jumped out very early.
He and Belgium's Martin Wynants held off the main bunch until being overtaken with just over 9km to go. Riders embark on another mostly flat ride in the second stage today, a 201km ride from Brussels to Spa. * AP