The Tour de France peloton met a second day of destruction as rain-soaked roads wreaked havoc on the second stage from Brussels to Spa.
The 201-kilometre stage from the Belgian capital through spring classics country encountered wet weather, which made the descents of the 97th Tour’s first six climbs treacherous – even forcing Lance Armstrong to contemplate why he was still riding two months prior to his 39th birthday.
The day belonged to QuickStep’s Sylvain Chavanel, who scored a solo victory to ensure he will be in the race leader’s yellow jersey when the Tour reaches his native France tomorrow.
Chavanel was part of an eight-man break before forging forward alone to score victory by almost four minutes.
Race favourite and two-time winner Alberto Contador, 2009 runner-up Andy Schleck, seven-time winner Armstrong, world champion Cadel Evans and general classification hopefuls Christian Vande Velde and Bradley Wiggins were among those to crash.
Team Garmin-Transitions leader Vande Velde was taken to hospital for further assessment along with the squad’s sprinter, Tyler Farrar, who had hoped to challenge for the points classification’s green jersey.
Chavanel was overjoyed, despite the events which unfolded behind him.
He said: “I didn’t know what was going on behind me, although I did hear there had been a crash.
“All I know is that I gave it everything I had.
“But whether the stage ended up being neutralised or not, it doesn’t take anything away from my win.”
It was Chavanel’s second career Tour stage win and will see him wear the fabled maillot jaune for tomorrow’s 213km stage from Wanze to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, featuring four cobbled sections from the Paris-Roubaix classic.
Armstrong last week predicted tomorrow would bring “carnage” and appeared stunned by today’s events after finishing among the peloton.
Asked how he felt following the tumultuous events of today, Armstrong responded: “All of 39 today.
“It’s moments like that I wonder why I came off the beach, but I’ll be back at it tomorrow.”
Armstrong, who suffered minor road rash, is competing in his final Tour and chasing an eighth victory, with his most recent coming before his first retirement in 2005.
The American Team RadioShack leader lies fifth overall after Chavanel’s surge up the rankings and believes more trouble could await the peloton on the 13.2km of pave they face tomorrow.
“I predicted carnage for tomorrow, not for today,” added Armstrong, who is hoping for a drier day tomorrow.
“It was pretty even, in the sense that almost everybody crashed.
“Everybody will be a little banged up and hurting tomorrow.
“After yesterday and today, I think the vast majority of the peloton has been on the ground at least once.”
Perhaps the biggest loser today was Andy Schleck, who appeared to suffer two major falls.
However, his Team Saxo Bank colleagues – with Fabian Cancellara in the yellow jersey following his prologue success on Saturday – were able to control the pursuit of Chavanel, slowing sufficiently to allow Schleck brothers Andy and Frank to come back to the pack, so as not to lose further time to their general classification rivals.
After the carnage, incumbent maillot jaune Cancellara agreed with the race commissionaire that no points classification sprint awards would be made at the finish to avoid further incident – something which will aid Mark Cavendish’s push for the green jersey after the HTC-Columbia sprinter finished almost 10 minutes adrift today.
Thor Hushovd, who beat Cavendish to the green jersey in 2009 by 10 points, was annoyed by the soft-pedalling protest which denied him the opportunity to open up further ground on the Briton in the fight for the maillot vert.
“I feel like they have taken something away from us today,” said Hushovd.
“There was no reason to not contest the sprint today.
“I lost an important opportunity to try to win the stage and gain points.”
Hushovd, though, remained bullish.
He added: “I have the confidence knowing that I can handle the cobble stones.
“I want to win the stage.”