Crash chaos: just add water

The famous Dutch footballer Johan Cruyff paid a visit to the Rabobank team on Thursday morning and told the riders these prophetic words: 'If it rains, it better rain hard', according to Laurens ten Dam's Twitter feed.

The rain was not hard enough to wash away days of accumulated diesel oil and dirt, and the drizzle turned the smooth Spanish roads into a skating rink for the sixth stage to Barcelona. The stage profile, with its short, sharp climbs in the last 20km, should not have caused big gaps in the peloton, but with a little water added to the mix, some riders literally slipped their way down the general classification.

Ten Dam was one of many riders to fall off during the 181.5km stage. He hurt his back in a massive pile-up in the final 10km which also claimed the large majority of the BBox Bouygues Telecom team which was already battered from the fall in the team time trial.

Rider after rider limped across the line with blood dripping, kits shredded, body aching, yet miraculously all appeared to have come out fit enough to start Friday's stage to Andorra.

The pre-race favourites for the GC were not immune to a little pavement surfing on the bacon-grease roads. The biggest loser was Michael Rogers, who limped in 13:14 down, but will still start Friday's stage.

Carlos Sastre fell early on in the race but was unaffected by the crash. His teammates José Angel Marchante and Heinrich Haussler also fell. Haussler, never one to be outdone, crashed twice in one stage.

"I went down on a slick spot coming out of a round-about," Haussler explained of the crash which also brought down Columbia-HTC's Michael Rogers and George Hincapie. "It was just so wet there, my front wheel just slid out."

"I took a lot of risks to catch back to the front group to try to help Thor [Hushovd] in the sprint, and then I crashed again when a huge crash took out 30 riders. I don't care, though, I'm just glad Thor won."

Behind Hushovd and the 48 riders who managed to finish with or near the front group, riders who fell or were held up by crashes straggled in over the next 15 minutes.

Denis Menchov, Rabobank's now beleaguered leader, was held up by a crash involving Tom Boonen in the finale, and lost another 1:02 to his rivals to push him down to 64th overall.

Columbia-HTC's Hincapie was coming back from a flat tire when he crashed with 20k to go. He said on his Twitter feed that he has "never been so scared on the bike as I was today."

The slightest bend in the road became an insurmountable obstacle for some. Quick Step's Boonen told Sporza he "never touched the brakes" before crashing hard to the ground in the final 10km. Caisse d'Epargne's David Arroyo also described the same scenario where one rider touching the brakes caused a massive pile-up behind.

Lampre's bruised World Champion Alessandro Ballan, still smarting from the crash in the team time trial, attributed his seventh place finish to the fact he was afraid to risk too much in the slick finale.

"The finish was good for my characteristics, but I didn’t want to risk too much before the last climb because my bike was slipping on the wet road and I had seen so many crashes," said Ballan.

Lampre's Simon Spilak crashed twice, Marcin Sapa once. Angelo Furlan, still smarting from the TTT crash, finished over eight minutes down.

The list goes on and on. With two weeks still to ride in this Tour de France and many teams already reaching the bottom of the first aid kit, it's amazing that there have been just three abandons from this year's race: Jurgen Van De Walle (Silence-Lotto), Piet Rooijakkers (Skil-Shimano) and Robert Gesink (Rabobank) all abandoned with broken bones this week.

The rest will soldier on to Andorra looking as if they'd paid a visit inside the bullfighting ring at the Plaza de Toros Monumental in Barcelona.

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