BRUSSELS, July 5 – Lance Armstrong was reminded of just how tough life can be on the Tour de France, even before the mountain stages, as the first stage of the race ended in carnage here Sunday.Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland retained the race leader’s yellow jersey but even the big Swiss rider could not avoid hitting the tarmac as bikes and bodies went flying inside the closing kilometres as the peloton readied for a bunch sprint.
Armstrong, who crashed earlier this season at the Tour of California, said he narrowly avoided coming down himself.
And the RadioShack team leader, who is aiming for an eighth yellow jersey from his final Tour campaign, added his voice to those who hit out at the over-enthusiasm of the many fans who lined the 223.5km route.
"(It was) total mayhem, definitely in the finish. Typical first stage, everybody wants to be in the front," said Armstrong, who finished the stage intact to stay in fourth place overall at 22sec behind Cancellara.
"There were millions and millions on the road. It’s so great to have so many supporters, but it’s a blessing and a curse. It makes the guys super nervous.
"And on these tight roads, with bad surfaces and a lot of turns, you saw in the final, there shouldn’t be any surprise that there are crashes there.
"In the final two kilometres there were three crashes, I was just behind the second one."
Armstrong saw several of his teammates go down, two when a dog ran out in the middle of the road halfway through the stage and several others, including Slovenian climber Janez Brajkovic, in the finale.
And the 38-year-old American said it gave a glimpse of how much carnage could come on the dreaded third stage on Tuesday, which features seven potentially treacherous cobblestone sections.
"It just shows how crazy it’s going to be on Tuesday. Same situation. Very small road. A lot of turns, the nerves and the intensity will be high."
The three crashes which occurred in the closing kilometres took out several favourites for the stage.
Spanish fast man Oscar Freire, of Rabobank, was brought down along with Cervelo’s Jeremy Hunt when the Briton took a wrong turn on a tight bend with two kilometres to go.
Another massive crash with just a kilometre to go reduced the peloton further.
British sprint king Mark Cavendish, the winner of six stages last year, was among the big names also left out of contention, leaving his lead-out man Renshaw to go it alone and finish second behind Italian Alessandro Petacchi.