Armstrong avoids crashes during race

BRUSSELS - Lance Armstrong was happy for his last Tour de France to continue injury-free after several other high-profile riders went down on a first stage marred by crashes on Sunday.

BRUSSELS - Lance Armstrong was happy for his last Tour de France to continue injury-free after several other high-profile riders went down on a first stage marred by crashes on Sunday.

Armstrong had his share of crashes since he returned to competition last season, breaking a collarbone last year before injuring his left elbow at the Tour of California in May.

The 38-year-old Texan didn't fall so often during his heyday - when he won seven consecutive Tours from 1999 to 2005 - and critics said his latest crashes indicated he had lost his racing science during his three and half years of retirement.

But the seven-time Tour champion, competing in the three-week race for the last time, avoided the three crashes on the final 2km of the 223,5km stage between Rotterdam, Netherlands, and Brussels.

Armstrong, who lies fourth overall, avoided danger when a group crashed just in front of him. His biggest rival, defending champion Alberto Contador, scraped a leg by bumping a bike in front.

Armstrong leads Contador by five seconds after Sunday's stage won by Alessandro Petacchi of Italy.

"That was total mayhem," Armstrong said. "Typical first stage, everybody wants to be in front. We even had a dog running in the group in the beginning that caused a crash with a couple of our guys."

Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso and third-placed David Millar fell off their bikes after the dog ran into the peloton.

"Probably the most dangerous thing today was the public. I crashed early on because there were moments the public came leaning right out into the road," Millar said.- Sapa-AP

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