Usually, positioning yourself towards the front of the peloton is enough to keep you out of trouble, Not so for veteran Kazakh Alexandre Vinkourov (Astana), who crashed out of the Tour de France on Sunday.
This 98th edition of the Grand Boucle was set to be Vinkourov's last before retirement, so it was with a sense of melancholy that the 37-year-old spoke following news of his race-ending injuries.
"I never expected such a dramatic end on the Tour de France," he said on a statement posted on the Astana website. "This is a terrible disappointment to me, I am so sad tonight. But I want to reassure myself by telling myself that it could have been much worse. The injury will stop me for quite a long time, and I will follow the Tour on television to support the entire Astana team. I know my friends on the team won't forget me and they will do everything to win at least one stage. "
Vinokourov was carried from the bushes in a ravine beneath the road from where he crashed around 110 kilometres into the ninth stage. Once transported to the hospital in Aurillac, x-rays revealed that Vinokourov had fractured the head of his right femur, an injury which given its recovery time is likely to bring a definitive end to his season. The Kazakh was later transferred to Hospital La Pitié Salpetriere in Paris where he underwent surgery by Professor Yves Catonne, Head of Orthopedic and Traumatology service.
Teammate Dimitry Fofonov explained that the Astana riders were forced to take a wide line into the slippery corner when one of the Omega Pharma-Lotto riders crashed, "and started to take us with him, and we found ourselves faced with a concrete column."
"We braked to avoid it and were forced to drop into the ravine," Fofonov continued. "Alexandre really hasn't been lucky, he was ahead of me and he was stopped in his fall by a tree. I've crashed down and I got up immediately, I felt I had nothing serious. I told Alexandre, 'Come on, we go!' He answered, 'Wait, not now, I think I have something broken!' So I came up to him and I wanted to lift him, but he was afraid that we make a bad move that could make him worse. I then saw the ambulance arrive at the top, next to the road and called for help."
Realising that their leader was down and would not be able to continue, the rest of the Astana team continued the stage, but Fofonov said "it's not easy to accept," that Vinokourov's Tour is over.
Rémy Di Gregorio was left shattered by the news, the Frenchman said it was a shame that it took incidents such as those seen on stage 9 to prove how dangerous the sport of cycling is.
"I don't want to overdo it, but sometimes we risk our lives," the 25-year-old said. "It's a shame for the team because we had worked around him [Vinokourov]. And it's sad for Alexandre, because he is a great person and for his last Tour, he deserved to finish in another way, he really had no luck. But we will continue the Tour de France to honour the team and Alexandre. "