Sanchez wins Tour's 9th stage; Voeckler takes lead

By Jerome Pugmire

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, July 10 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Alexande Vinokourov of Kazakhstan, second right, is helped by his teammates after crashing during the 9th stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 208 kilometers (129 miles) starting in Issoire and finishing in Saint Flour, central France, Sunday July 10, 2011.

Christophe Ena, Associated Press

SAINT-FLOUR, France — Spain's Luis Leon Sanchez won the ninth stage of the Tour de France on a wild day of crashes, while France's Thomas Voeckler finished second to take the leader's yellow jersey from Thor Hushovd.

Among those caught in the mayhem was defending champion Alberto Contador, who overcame another crash, banging his troublesome right knee after an early spill.

"I had a problem with my handlebars, which knocked into another rider's saddle," Contador said after safely completing the stage in 12th place. "It pushed me toward the spectators on the side, and I went into them and the bike hit me on the right knee again."

Sanchez moved into second place overall, followed by Australia's Cadel Evans.

"I'm so happy to win this stage as it was important for me and my whole team," Sanchez said through a translator. "It was really a hard stage today. The roads were thin the whole day long."

Veteran Kazakh rider Alexandre Vinokourov fractured his right thigh bone and withdrew after crashing near the halfway point of the 129-mile route from Issoire to Saint-Flour in the Massif Central. He was to be taken by helicopter to La Pitie Salpetriere hospital in Paris and will undergo immediate surgery, his team said.

Spain's Juan Antonio Flecha was hit by a car late on, and took down Dutchman Johnny Hoogerland with him as he flew sideways off his saddle. Both got up and kept riding. Defending champion Alberto Contador fell early on, but the Spaniard was unharmed and rode on.

"Even before the accident a lot of cars brushed right past us," Sanchez said. "I understand that guests want to have a close look at the race, but we need to get a message across to the organizers so that the drivers are more careful."

Flecha did not speak to reporters as he boarded his team bus. Sky's team manager, Dave Brailsford, is considering a formal complaint.

"We might bring the matter forward tomorrow, but tonight we are not making comments", Brailsford said.

Voeckler was also slightly hurt in the incident, but was careful not to criticize the driver.

"It was very possible it could have happened to me, I was lucky not to fall," Voeckler said. "My ankle really hurts because he went into me. I'm not here to cause controversy, but it's very regrettable."

Contador, who also crashed on Stage 5, fell early but recovered to finish the stage in 12th place.

"I had a problem with my handlebars, which knocked into another rider's saddle," Contador said. "It pushed me toward the spectators on the side, and I went into them and the bike hit me on the right knee again."

Hushovd had worn the yellow jersey since his Garmin-Cervelo team won last Sunday's team time trial, but the burly sprinter looked tired as he rolled over the line several minutes behind Voeckler. Voeckler once defended the yellow jersey for nine days during the 2004 Tour, but he could not match Sanchez as he turned out of a corner and accelerated in the last 300 yards.

"These are good times. I wouldn't have bet on taking the yellow jersey today," Voeckler said. "Time passes and I appreciate this one even more."

Frenchman Sandy Casar finished third, and all three had been part of a breakaway early in the stage.

Flecha and Hoogerland had also formed part of the same early break, but their chances of a stage victory ended with about 22 miles to go when a Tour car swerved into Flecha's side. Neither rider appeared badly hurt.

Vinokourov, who has said he will retire from cycling at the end of the season, was caught in a heavy crash that sent him and about 30 other riders tumbling like a house of cards. Several other riders retired as well.

Vinokourov was carried up a small bank by an Astana teammate and staff member. They had rushed to him as he lay next to a tree. They helped him to his feet by putting their arms around him.

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