Crashes and injuries mar Tour de France stage 9

Stage 9 of the Tour de France was struck by a number of horrific accidents, with Astana's Alexandre Vinokourov being the most seriously injured, while a bizarre moment in the day's winning breakaway saw a car hit Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) and knock Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) flying onto a barbed wire fence.

Vinokourov was only one of many who went down in a crash 102km into the stage while descending the Pas de Peyrol. He and teammate Dmitriy Fofonov swerved to avoid an Omega Pharma-Lotto rider who had crashed on a turn, and as a result both Astana riders went off the road and down into a wooded ravine.

"The road was a bit wet when we arrived at a very tight left turn," said Fofonov. "Ahead of us some riders took a wrong trajectory, Thor Hushovd unclipped his foot from the pedal, a rider from Lotto just ahead of us wanted to cut a little to the left, whereas with Alexandre we took the turn wide. The Lotto rider slipped 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."

While Fofonov jumped to his feet relatively unscathed, Vinokourov had hit a tree and broke the head of his right femur.

"I saw the ambulance arrive at the top next to the road and called for help," said Fofonov. "[Astana teammates] Remy Di Gregorio and Andriy Grivko came down and helped Alexandre up to the road. At this point, we realized that Alexandre could not continue."

"I never expected such a dramatic end to the Tour de France," said Vinokourov. "This is a terrible disappointment to me, I am so sad tonight, but 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 not the only one involved. Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Omega Pharma-Lotto's hope for the GC, went down as well. Van Den Broeck tried to get back on his bike, but was persuaded not to. The team announced that he had broken a shoulder blade, while teammate Frederik Willems had to leave the race with a suspected broken collarbone.

David Zabriskie's Tour also came to an end in the same crash, as the Garmin-Cervelo rider suffered a fractured wrist.

Late in the stage viewers were stunned to see a car, apparently from French television, pull over right into Flecha while passing the five-man break. Behind the Spaniard, Hoogerland, who had just claimed the KOM jersey, was knocked off his bike and flew onto a barbed wire fence alongside the race route. Both eventually got back on their bikes, but ended up losing much time.

Hoogerland looked to be the worst off of the two, as his legs were ripped up and covered in blood.

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