Six crashes mar first stage of Tour

Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, and Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, right, pass a windmill south of Rotterdam during the first stage of the Tour de France.

BRUSSELS, Belgium --- Lance Armstrong saw it coming: tight turns, narrow roads, big crowds and nervous riders would make crashes likely in Sunday's first stage at the Tour de France.


He sure was right.

The seven-time Tour champion emerged unscathed after at least six crashes bedeviled the sun-baked stage through Dutch and Belgian flatlands that was won by Alessandro Petacchi of Italy, who avoided a big pileup in the final straightaway.

Race leader Fabian Cancellara tumbled to the asphalt and defending champion Alberto Contador scraped a leg against another bike after he hit his brakes in the logjam that blocked the road. Neither was seriously hurt.

The 139-mile course from Rotterdam, Netherlands, to Brussels, started out with three mid-stage crashes, one caused by a dog that darted into the pack, and finished with another three in the last 2 miles.

"Total mayhem," Armstrong said.

Even so, the overall standings didn't change. Tony Martin of Germany remained 10 seconds behind Cancellara, who won Saturday's prologue. Britain's David Millar was third, 20 seconds off the Swiss rider. Armstrong trailed another 2 seconds back and Contador was sixth, 5 seconds behind his American rival.

"Typical first stage: Everybody wants to be in the front, everybody nervous for crashes," Armstrong said.

Stage 1

WHAT: A 139-mile ride from Rotterdam, Netherlands, to Brussels.

WINNER: Alessandro Petacchi . The overall standings remained unchanged with Fabian Cancellara, of Switzerland, leading Germany's Tony Martin by 10 seconds.


NEXT: Today's stage is a 125-mile ride that follows some parts of the Walloon Arrow and Liege-Bastogne-Liege one-day classics. The hilly terrain puts the sprinters at a disadvantage and could favor a group of breakaway riders.

-- Associated Press