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Lance Armstrong Avoids Pile-Ups to Stay in Strong Contention

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It was old-timer’s day at the Tour de France yesterday, in more ways than one. Not only is Lance Armstrong, at 38, trying to become the oldest winner ever in his final Tour, but on a day meant to be an homage to the greatest cyclist of all time, 65-year-old Belgian legend Eddy Merckx, another geezer ended up winning yesterday’s stage by avoiding several spectacular pile-ups at the finish in Brussels.

Alessandro Petacchi, 36, isn’t the dominating sprinter he was several years ago, but with the other fast-finish favorites going down in crashes in the final kilometers, the Italian veteran managed to win his first Tour stage since 2003.

Reports from the world’s cycling press …

Armstrong once again shows his penchant for avoiding trouble, writes the Telegraph‘s Brendan Gallagher.

In another piece, Gallagher suggests that Isle of Man sprinter Mark Cavendish isn’t a favorite with some: “A small section of the crowd heckled Cavendish when he eventually reached the finish – chants of ‘Cav, go home, you suck’ could be heard.”

American cyclist Tyler Farrar was 50 meters away from a dream July 4th when his chance to win yesterday’s stage was ruined, writes Neal Rogers of VeloNews. Instead, another rider’s bike got caught in Farrar’s rear derailleur.

Former Tour de France cyclist Scott Sunderland, writing for The Australian, says the cyclists only have themselves to blame for the crashes that marred a stage which otherwise was a fitting tribute to the Belgian king of cycling, Eddy Merckx.

One of our favorite parts of the pageantry of the Tour is the tradition of national champions wearing jerseys that reflect the colors of their respective nations. For the first time in Tour history, Moldova has its national champ in the race this year, young Alexandr Pliushin, and yesterday he flew the Moldovan colors in a strong breakaway, reports Cyclingnews.com.

Think cyclists aren’t tough? In a crash early in yesterday’s race, Australian rider Adam Hansen broke his shoulder bones and still managed to finish the 223-kilometer stage. After X-rays showed his fractures, he pulled out of the rest of the Tour. And on Saturday, Portuguese rider Manuel Cardoso managed to finish the 5-mile prologue after crashing and breaking his jaw.

Today, sprinters like Cavendish and Farrar likely won’t get a chance to make up for yesterday’s mayhem. In a 125-mile ride from Brussels to Spa, a hilly Belgian course not suited to the sprinters will take in some of the climbs of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Fleche Wallone classics, and we just might see some post-July-4th fireworks from the Tour’s big overall contenders, or at least an intriguing breakaway.

Stage 1 results: 1. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita), 2. Mark Renshaw (Aus), 3. Thor Hushovd (Nor), 4. Robbie McEwen (Aus), 5. Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra)

Overall standings: 1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi), 2. Tony Martin (Ger), 3. David Millar (GBr), 4. Lance Armstrong (USA), 5. Geraint Thomas (GBr)

The overall favorites, trailing Lance Armstrong: Alberto Contador (5 seconds), Cadel Evans (17s), Carlos Sastre (32s), Ivan Basso (33s), Brad Wiggins (34s), Frank Schleck (35s), Christian Vande Velde (38s), Andy Schleck (47s)

Yellow jersey (overall leader): Fabian Cancellara (Swi)
Green jersey (points leader): Alessandro Petacchi (Ita)
Polka dot jersey (mountains): not awarded yet
White jersey (best young rider): Tony Martin (Ger)