Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) started stage 7 at Paris-Nice in third overall, just 10 seconds down on leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky), but by the finish a trio of crashes had eliminated any hope of overall victory with only tomorrow's Col d'Èze time trial remaining. The 38-year-old American, accompanied by three of his teammates, crossed the finish line 16:50 down on solo stage winner Thomas De Gendt and more than nine minutes in arrears of the peloton which contained all of Leipheimer's general classification rivals.
Leipheimer suffered bruises on his right knee, hip and arm while his teammate Dries Devenyns was forced to abandon following the third and most harrowing incident, involving a collision with a parked motorcycle on a blind turn.
"On the first crash, there was a corner with gravel and I dropped my vest into my front wheel because everybody reacted," Leipheimer said. "I was holding my vest but had to let go to brake and it went in the front wheel. By the time I crashed I was going slow so it was not such a big deal. I hit my wrist, which is swollen, but it was OK.
"I got on my spare bike, but I did the Col de Vence climb and wasn't feeling as good on my bike. I wanted to get back on my other bike, back on the first bike. On the downhill, I was right there at the front with Bradley Wiggins and Alejandro Valverde. I was fine, I was paying attention, but someone from behind wasn't and they hit me hard and broke my bike at the same time as Movistar attacked."
As Leipheimer was making his way back to the peloton once again, paced by four of his teammates, it would be the third and final crash which proved to be most serious.
"Stijn Vandenbergh, Kevin de Weert, Dries Devenyns and Tony Martin waited for me, but we were really close to the bunch," said Leipheimer. "We arrived close to the group, but in the right corner there was a motorbike protecting someone from Lampre who crashed. We couldn't avoid them. I think everyone passed except Dries and I couldn't avoid it, and I crashed into him. It's easy for me to say I could have done this or that tomorrow, but that's part of the race. It was just bad luck."
Omega Pharma-Quickstep directeur sportif Brian Holm was pragmatic in his assessment of the day's unfortunate series of crashes.
"First of all you have to look at the positives," said Holm. "The third crash downhill, that was not fun. Going into something standing still you can really hurt yourself. I saw them hurt themselves badly, but don't think anybody broke anything.
"My first thought was 'shoot, arms and legs were broken.' Levi, he is made of chocolate. You know, third time down, to get back on your bike, you have to be very strong. I am just glad no one broke their bones. The team waited for Levi. Everybody waited for the captain. he goes down, everyone goes down. That's what they have to do.
The Belgian ProTour squad's only remaining rider high on general classification is French champion Sylvain Chavanel who remained in the peloton while his teammates went back to assist Leipheimer.
"Sylvain [Chavanel] was in the top nine so he did what he had to do," said Holm. "Stuff happens."
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