By Mark Zalewski in Clovis, California, USA
Crashes continued to wreak havoc on the peloton at the Tour of California's Stage 4, sending riders to the ground and some even to the hospital. The accidents continued despite the sunny and warm weather that finally arrived for the fourth stage.
Three of the four riders that hit the ground on Wednesday's stage were transported a local hospital, including some big names – Kim Kirchen (Columbia-High Road), Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and last year's KOM winner Scott Nydam (BMC).
Strangely the crashes all seemed to occur on the more benign stretches of road, and not the highly technical descents, made even more dangerous today by melting snow and sand.
"I saw that [Nydam] was coming back to give me the jackets from the other team members, and as he was looking back to see where I was, I saw his handlebars make a u-turn and he crashed right in front of the car," team director John Lelangue said in a statement. "It was really scary since I had to take quick action to avoid running him over. It looks like he may have broken the collarbone that he broke last year at the Tour of Utah.
"But compared to how scary the crash was, we can be very thankful that it is just a collarbone," Lelangue said.
The race medical staff confirmed that Kirchen broke his right clavicle and ribs, while Freire suffered a chest injury and two rib fractures.
"Kim crashed in a freak accident with his jacket in his wheel," Kirchen's teammate and stage winner Mark Cavendish said. "He was on his way to a good season so I want to send my best wishes to him and I'm glad I could win the stage for him."
Astana director Johan Bruyneel had to deal with his own riders crashing in odd places on the third stage, when race leader Levi Leipheimer went down on an uphill and smooth four-lane road.
"I don't know what it is... they are crashing a lot," he told Cyclingnews. "Today it was three or four big crashes and it's not like the course is dangerous, they are always crashing on the straight roads. I don't know what it is, it maybe the tension of the race. After three days of heavy rain I think they are pretty tired."