CAP FREHEL, France (VN) – The official medical communique of Wednesday’s sixth stage at the Tour de France only lists eight names, but the pain and suffering went much deeper than that.
Scores of riders hit the deck in a tense, nervous, windy and high-speed run across the green hills of Brittany. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) crashed twice while Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) and Robert Gesink (Rabobank) also crashed, but at least they were able to finish the race. One of RadioShack’s “four musketeers,” Janez Brajkovic, was sent packing to a French hospital with stitches to the head.
The team later announced that Brajkovic had a concussion and a broken collarbone.
“I don’t remember anything of the crash,” Brajkovic said. “I remember the moment I was about to crash and then the next thing I remember was our team doctor asking me if I thought I could continue. But I wasn’t aware of where I was and which race I was in. Nothing. So it was clear that I had to go to the hospital.”
The team lost one of its four potential GC leaders, RadioShack manager Johan Bruyneel told VeloNews. “It’s bad for us, but on the other hand, if you start with one leader and he’s out, you have nothing left,” he said. “It’s the danger of the first week of the Tour. It’s always like this. There are 198 riders and the road is only so wide and everyone wants to be at the front. The mathematics say there will be crashes.”
Leipheimer and Yaroslav Popovych each crossed the line with cuts and scrapes, but they didn’t make the official communique, either.
The team said the pair each bruised his wrist — Leipheimer his left, Popovych his right. The team had Popovych’s wrist X-rayed but found no fracture.
Gusts up to 50kph meant that teams were anxiously trying to muscle their GC candidates and sprinters near the front of the peloton to keep them out of the worse of the danger. Garmin-Cervélo’s Christian Vande Velde said the team had to keep fighting to keep its riders at the nose of the peloton in order to protect Thor Hushovd’s yellow jersey.
“We were in the front and no one wanted us to have the front. Everyone was so panicked, I think if everyone just let us control the race, things would have been OK, but it was panic stations at all times. It just created crashes over and over again,” Vande Velde told VeloNews. “I know everyone has a different agenda, everyone has a different radio in their ear, it’s just a pity that it’s so stressed out. We were on the front, but we did our best when we heard the crashes behind, we would slow down to let everyone take care of business and get back on the bike.”
Contador survived a close call by avoiding serious injury or other mishaps after crashing twice. After losing 1:20 in the opening day, Contador was fighting to be at the front of the peloton to avoid a crash.
“It was a day of maximum tension, with wind and a lot of curves and hills. In the first fall, I was more or less in 20th position. The fall was ahead of me, just before the intermediate sprint, I got right back up, but I had to change the bike,” Contador said. “I was pretty upset when I crashed a second time because I had just avoided falling with Gesink two kilometers earlier. I have a few scrapes, with the right side the most effected, from the shoulder to the knee, but nothing serious. I knew today was an important stage and to be attentive all the time, because you can lose the stage race on these kinds of stages and they can be more dangerous than a mountain stage.”
Contador’s teammate Nicki Sorensen was knocked off his bike by a photographer’s motorcycle from Getty Images. The Danish national road champion toppled into a ditch, but his bike was hooked onto the motorbike’s handlebars and dragged along the road for 200 meters. Race officials quickly revoked the driver’s permit and excluded him from the race.
“Luckily, I am not seriously injured and I am to ride again tomorrow,” Sorensen said. “I was riding safely on the side of the road and a motorbike knocked me off the bike. He was going so close that my bike was drawn after his motorbike for 200 meters.”