Petacchi wins 1st stage of Tour de France
Alessandro Petacchi of Italy won Sunday's crash-marred first stage of the Tour de France in Brussels, Belgium, 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 half-mile that stalled race leader Fabian Cancellara and Armstrong amid a large bunch.
The top of the standings didn't change: Cancellara, the Swiss who won Saturday's prologue, retained the yellow jersey and seven-time Tour champion Armstrong remains fourth, 22 seconds back.
Alberto Contador, the 2009 champion, was sixth, 27 seconds behind, following the 223.5-kilometre trek through flat Belgian and Dutch lowlands from Rotterdam to Brussels.
Ryder Hesjedal of Victoria had another solid showing, moving up one spot to 36th overall while remaining 46 seconds off the pace. The same went for Michael Barry of Toronto, who moved up to 117th while keeping 1:08 back.
The top rider for the Canadian-owned Cervelo TestTeam continued to be Lithuanian Ignatas Konovalovas, who is 32nd, 44 seconds behind.
Armstrong didn't go down in the crashes, but Cancellara did.
"It was really nervous today, and at the end it was just insane," Cancellara 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 last few miles.
Pileup near the finish
Then, in the last 1,000 metres, a massive pileup left Lampre rider Petacchi a relatively easy sprint to victory ahead of the approximately 20 riders who were able to avoid the spill.
Petacchi clocked five hours nine minutes 38 seconds for the stage, screaming and thrusting his index fingers into the air as he crossed the finish. The 36-year-old Italian is riding his first Tour since 2004 — a year after he collected four stage victories.
Britain's David Millar and Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso crashed after a dog darted into the peloton around the 55-kilometre mark — before getting up and returning 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 wasn't immediately clear what happened, but they suspected a broken left collarbone and said he'd go directly to the hospital after the stage.
Mouldavian champion Alexandr Pliuschin burst out of the pack with about 25 kilometres 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 over taken with just over nine kilometres to go.
Riders embark on another mostly flat ride in Monday's second stage, a 201-kilometre jaunt from Brussels to Spa.