France's Sylvain Chavanel won the rain-swept second stage of the Tour de France on Monday to take the overall lead, while seven-time champion Lance Armstrong finished in the pack after bloodying his thigh on a day filled with crashes.
Chavanel seized the leader's yellow jersey from Fabian Cancellara. The Swiss rider, like Armstrong and 2010 Tour winner Alberto Contador, was nearly four minutes behind in the main pack.
The 31-year-old Quick Step rider won a Tour stage for the second time in his career. He joined a small, early breakaway group and gradually drew away in the 125-mile run from Brussels to Spa.
Armstrong returned to the RadioShack team bus with his team outfit torn and a bloody scrape on his thigh. RadioShack manager Johan Bruyneel, speaking to The Associated Press outside the team bus, said Armstrong went down on the descent from the mid-grade Stockeu Pass.
“Lance is OK. He's got a wound on his hip and his elbow,” said Bruyneel, adding this was not the same elbow Armstrong injured during a crash in the Tour of California in May.
Armstrong dropped a notch to fifth place and is 3 minutes, 19 seconds back. Bruyneel said Armstrong's teammates Andreas Kloeden and Levi Leipheimer also fell.
“Riding downhill was almost like ice skating,” Bruyneel said. “Almost half of the peloton crashed today.”
Equally unlucky was 2009 Tour runner-up Andy Schleck. The Luxembourg rider appeared to injure his elbows in a spill, although he returned to the race and rejoined the pack.
Chavanel started the stage in 87th place, 59 seconds behind Cancellara. But the Swiss rider, at the front of the pack, cruised across the finish nearly four minutes back.
“Pure happiness,” said Chavanel, choking with emotion.
Cancellara trails the Frenchman by 2:57, with Germany's Tony Martin in third place, 3:07 back. Britain's David Millar is fourth, 3:17 back. Contador is seventh 3:24 behind.
The Tour ends July 25 in Paris.