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Tour de France 2011 Stage 9: Voeckler grabs yellow on a day of catastrophe and travesty

Another day of carnage as the French housewives' favourite takes the race lead

On a day marred by crashes and travesty, Thomas Voeckler took the yellow jersey seven years after his memorable ten-day stint at the top of the Tour de France. Luis Leon Sanchez, survivor of a day long breakaway alongside Voeckler, won the stage atop Saint-Flour, his third career Tour win.

With eight categorized climbs along the route, the day was prime for a great escape. After a couple of failed attempts and two small crashes, Voeckler (Europcar) and Sanchez (Rabobank) joined Niki Terpstra (Quickstep), Sandy Casar (FDJ), Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) and the always enthusiastic Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) on a bold expedition up the road. The six flowed over the first two climbs before a crash set the tone for the rest of the stage.

The peloton, descending the Cat. 2 Col du Pas de Peyrol, crashed hard. Alexandre Vinokourov, so animated yesterday, broke his femur, pelvis and elbow. The very consistent Grand Tour rider Jurgen Van Den Broeck cracked his shoulder blade and suffered a head injury while Garmin’s David Zabriskie broke his collar bone. For all three riders, the Tour de France was over. Yellow jersey wearer Thor Hushovd, green jersey holder Philippe Gilbert and the Leopard contingent called for a truce to let the peloton reform. This allowed the breakaway to fly, even though it lost Terpstra.

As the breakaway continued, there seemed to be an arrangement among the riders. Hoogerland was allowed to take maximum mountain points, something that would give him the polka dot jersey at the end of his painful day. The break would speed on to Saint-Flour to get Voeckler the yellow jersey and the stage victory would go to one of the other fellows. Then something so bizarre and awful almost destroyed the plan.

A French television car, swerving right wildly to avoid what at worst would’ve been a busted mirror, smacked into Flecha. Flecha hit the pavement hard after knocking Hoogerland into a frightful upside-down fall into a barbed wire fence. At first, Voeckler called for a slow down to let the two catch up, but it was clear that Flecha was handicapped by his injuries and Hoogerland was so badly cut that he might have to abandon. Flecha gingerly pressed on, and, to everyone’s amazement and admiration, Hoogerland remounted, had the motorcycle doctor patch him up and carried on with blood streaming down his calves.

After Omega’s delivery of Gilbert to more sprint points, Garmin took up the task of preserving Hushovd’s yellow. This left Hoogerland whey-faced and hurting off the back of the bunch. Up the road Voeckler went ballistic, dragging the other two up more short mountains. Finally, Garmin gave in and it was BMC’s job to keep Voeckler’s gap manageable. In Saint-Flour, Sanchez stomped on the pedals to speed off from the exhausted but happy Voeckler. Hoogerland and Flecha, survivors of madness, crossed the line together, bloody but unbowed.

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