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The “Race to the Sun” certainly didn’t live up to its moniker Saturday in what turned out to be a crash derby at Paris-Nice.
Saturday’s 215km seventh stage was one of those days that tests cyclists’ souls. Cold, wind, rain and lots of climbing were complicated by dozens of crashes that KO’d some big names.
“Dead men walking today at Paris-Nice,” Levi Leipheimer wrote on his Twitter. “It was every man for himself, trying to stay upright and out of trouble.”
Martijn Maaskant, the Dutch classics specialist at Garmin-Cervélo, will miss Paris-Roubaix after breaking seven ribs. Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) crashed on the descent off the Cote de Gourdon: “I slipped closed to a ravine and it could have been very serious. I’ve been very lucky!”
The stage’s brutal pace caused a few riders to throw in the towel, including Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), Nicholas Roche (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Fränk Schleck and Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek), Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) and Sandy Casar (FDJ) while Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil) was among the non-starters.
In all, 22 riders did not finish or start Saturday’s punishing stage.
“Fränk didn’t feel comfortable at all in today’s race. The weather conditions made him feel quite miserable. Also, we’ll need to improve his position on the TT bike, because he experienced some pain in the back after the time trial yesterday,” said sport director Kim Andersen . “As for Jakob, his hand is very swollen. It is not broken but his body is wrecked from the crash earlier this week. He has some sort of infection.”
Scores of other riders hit the deck, including Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) and Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervélo) who both crashed late in the seven-climb stage. Haussler crashed “several times,” the team reported, including once into a cement wall, but he survived to bolster his lead in the points jersey.
Van Garderen told VeloNews he slipped on wet roads, but vowed to fight on Sunday to help teammate Tony Martin sew up the overall.
“It was just a super slippery road. I went down, hobbled around for a few minutes, but got back up and finished the day,” Van Garderen wrote VeloNews via e-mail. “My knee is a little swollen, but I gotta get through tomorrow for Tony.”
Robert Kiserlovski (Astana) survived a harrowing spill in the final kilometers and slid under a truck parked along side of the road. He later finished the race in last place, but was awarded the same time at 37 seconds off the pace because his crash occurred within the final 3km.
Forecasters are calling for more rain and cold for Sunday’s finale, which includes the harrowing descent off the steep and narrow Col d’Eze.
If the horrendous conditions were not enough, riders at RadioShack were voicing frustration after feeling singled out by anti-doping controllers, with the Shack’s Andreas Klöden and Jani Brajkovic getting tested again before Saturday’s start.
According to a report on the team’s web site, sport director Alain Gallopin said, “One-third of their controls this week have been on our riders.”
The team reported that Brajkovic has been tested four times and Klöden, a winner of Thursday’s road stage, eight times in seven days.