Lance Armstrong and several other Tour de France contenders were caught up in a series of crashes Monday during a rain splattered second stage won by new race leader Sylvain Chavanel.
In one of the spills, Armstrong and defending Tour champion Alberto Contador of Spain tumbled to the asphalt on a slippery descent from the mid-grade Stockeu Pass toward the end of the 201-kilometre run from Brussels to Spa. Both sustained scrapes but finished the stage and were OK, their teams said.
Armstrong returned to the RadioShack team bus with his team outfit torn and a bloody scrape on his thigh.
"You had people everywhere. It was surreal. When I got back on my bike … I saw crash, after crash, after crash," Armstrong said, noting riders laid out on the ground. "It was like war."
"There was no way to stay on the bike," he added, saying he sustained an abrasion on his hip. "There was something on the road ... I was scared. I think everybody was scared."
RadioShack manager Johan Bruyneel said Armstrong also hurt an elbow — though not the same elbow the seven-time Tour champion had injured in a crash in the Tour of California in May.
"Riding downhill was almost like ice-skating," Bruyneel said, adding that RadioShack's Andreas Kloeden and Levi Leipheimer also fell. "Almost half of the peloton crashed today," Bruyneel said.
Equally unlucky was 2009 Tour runner-up Andy Schleck. The Luxembourg rider appeared to injure his elbows in another spill. He returned to the race and rejoined the pack.
Chavanel collected his second career Tour stage victory after joining a small early breakaway group and then gradually distancing them. The 31-year-old Quick Step rider from France clocked four hours 40 minutes 48 seconds on the stage.
Chavanel took the race leader's yellow jersey off Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara who, like Armstrong and Contador, trailed 3:56 in the main pack. Armstrong placed 54th and Contador was 81st.
The French leader had started the stage in 87th place overall, 59 seconds behind Cancellara.
"Pure happiness," said Chavanel, choking up with emotion.
Aside from Chavanel's vault to first place, the top standings didn't change. Cancellara now trails the Frenchman by 2 minutes, 57 seconds, with Germany's Tony Martin in third place, 3:07 back.
Britain's David Millar is fourth, 3:17 back, and Armstrong dropped a notch to fifth and is 3:19 back. Contador is seventh 3:24 behind
Victoria's Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Transitions is 27th, 3:43 behind after finishing 48th Monday. Toronto's Michael Barry of Sky is 84th overall, 4:05 behind. He was 122nd on the second stage.
After two straight stages with multiple crashes, the stage Tuesday takes riders on what had already been billed as the most treacherous in week one — a 213-kilometre ride from Wanze Arenberg to Porte du Hainaut, featuring seven bumpy cobblestone patches.
The Tour ends July 25 in Paris.