The Tour de France passed four stages without serious incidents but the peloton's luck ran out on the narrow, windy roads of Brittany from Carhaix to Cap Frehel on stage 5, causing a number of riders, including the top GC contenders to crash.
The most serious incident involved Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) and Janez Brajkovic (RadioShack), the latter of which sustained a gruesome head injury. His team confirmed that he has a broken left collarbone and concussion.
According to his Rabobank team, Gesink was "involuntarily acquainted with the asphalt". His team doctor Dion Van Bommel confirmed the Dutch rider had sustained "abrasions over almost his entire body" and had to have stitches in his elbow and right hand, although fortunately he escaped more serious injury. Other Rabobank crash victims during the very nervous day of racing included Carlos Barredo, Juan Manuel Garate and Maarten Tjallingii.
Contador said in a press release that he crashed twice - once without incident before the intermediate sprint, and then again in the fall with Gesink. "I hit the right side from my shoulder to knee, but nothing serious," he said, showing the holes in his jersey in a Twitter photo.
The most shocking crash was that of Saxo Bank's Danish champion Nicki Sørensen, who was clipped by a photo motorcycle.
"I was riding safely in the side of the road and then a motor bike knocked me off the bike. He was actually going so close that my bike was drawn after his motor bike for 200 meters and I landed heavily on the ground. Luckily, I'm ok and am able to ride again tomorrow," said Sørensen.
The most prolonged drama from today's crashes was the painful chase of the peloton by Quickstep's Tom Boonen, who went down with most of his team 60km from the finish line. Boonen was said to have crashed on his head, causing him to sit on the road for several minutes as he was suffering from dizziness while also clutching his right shoulder. He eventually got back up on his bike and continued but was in pain.
While Gert Steegmans, who also fell, chased on up ahead, Boonen was left alone, his jersey torn and blood oozing from his hip as he chased for some 20km before Addy Engels was sent back to help him make the time cut.
"I just rejoined the group after picking up some water bottles and then I was among those who crashed. I continued and through my earpiece I heard that they wanted me to wait as Tom was far behind on his own. We didn't talk a lot. He said he was in a lot of pain and having troubles standing on the pedals. It was still 50km to go. The two of us rode for about forty kilometres," Engels said.
The duo had to ride as fast as possible in order to finish within the allowed time cut of 18 minutes. Eventually they came in just over 13 minutes behind winner Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad).
"In the road book these stages are marked out as easy stages so you can't afford to lose much time. We rode full gas to make it to the finish line before the time cut. Eventually we had a good margin but the finale could have been even tougher or more windy and then we would lose much more time," Engels said.
When arriving at the finish line Boonen clearly had dug deep to continue the race and he immediately entered the team bus without saying a word.
Quickstep's woes were compounded by an earlier crash involving French champion Sylvain Chavanel which occurred approximately 10km before the feed zone. Chavanel fell hard on his right side, ending up off-road and dislocating the acromion-clavicular joint in his right shoulder.
"In the fall I also hit my head and broke my helmet," Chavanel said. "The consequences could have been much worse. Tomorrow morning I'm lining up for the start as usual, but it’s obvious that tomorrow I can look forward to a day of suffering."
A late-race crash involving Euskaltel-Euskadi rider Ivan Velasco will likely mean another abandon. His team confirmed in a press release that he has broken his right collarbone.
If he does not continue, he will be the Tour's fourth rider to quit after Omega Pharma Lotto's Jurgen Van De Walle, Christophe Kern (Europcar) and Brajkovic.