TOUR DE FRANCE: Crashes mar 5th stage |

TOUR DE FRANCE: Crashes mar 5th stage

Associated Press

CAP FREHEL, France (AP) – Crashes, crashes everywhere: Alberto Contador and some other top Tour de France riders tumbled to the asphalt Wednesday in a nervous ride on Brittany’s narrow, wind-swept roads.

Most recovered, and a rider who skirted trouble to excel was British speedster Mark Cavendish, who again showed that he’s one of the world’s top sprinters by leading a frenzied mass dash to the finish to win Stage 5.

Gritting it out through pain of bruises, scrapes or broken bones, defending champion Contador and most of the other crash victims bounced back to finish the 102-mile trek from Carhaix to Cap Frehel along the rocky western French shores on the English Channel.

The top of the standings didn’t change. Thor Hushovd of Norway kept the yellow jersey for a fourth day, with a 1-second lead over Cadel Evans of Australia. Frank Schleck of Luxembourg is third, 4 seconds back.

One who didn’t make it through was RadioShack rider Jani Brajkovic, who was briefly knocked unconscious in a crash and taken to hospital where he was diagnosed with a concussion and a collarbone fracture.

The promising 27-year-old Slovenian, who quit the race, was but one of the U.S. team’s riders to run into trouble.

“It’s a bad day for us,” said Johan Bruyneel, the RadioShack team manager, bemoaning also that Jaroslav Popovych of Ukraine badly injured his right wrist and scraped up his left knee and elbow.

Bruyneel said Brajkovic was so dazed and disoriented that he couldn’t remember the crash: “He couldn’t tell us what happened, where he was and on which race.”

American veteran Levi Leipheimer, another RadioShack star and a four-time top-10 finisher at the Tour, was also involved in a crash but returned to the course. French time-trial champion Christophe Kern also dropped out.

The stage ran along a picturesque patch of rocky Brittany cliffs overlooking the Atlantic – but it was anything but pretty for many of the riders. Leipheimer complained about the dangers of the tight Brittany roads that often forced the pack to suddenly compact, making crashes more likely.

“These roads don’t belong in the Tour, especially 1st week,” he tweeted.

At least six crashes marred the stage. Sky rider Bradley Wiggins of Britain and the Netherlands’ Robert Gesink, of the Rabobank team, joined Contador as title hopefuls who went down but recovered to finish.

“It was very nervous, and because of that you get a lot of crashes, because there are 200 riders who want to be in front,” said Hushovd.