SAINT-FLOUR, France — Every rider knows it, and every rider has experienced it. But even if they haven’t crashed hard and broken bones yet, they likely will.
It’s the reason for the axiom that there are two kinds of cyclists: those who have fractured their clavicles and those who are about to.
Crashes have been particularly prevalent in this year’s Tour de France, which has seen more than 20 serious falls during the first nine stages.
As a result, Bradley Wiggins (Sky) of Great Britain, RadioShack teammates Chris Horner of Bend, Ore., and Jani Brajkovic of Slovenia, along with Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) of Kazakhstan — all riders in contention for the overall title — have abandoned the race.
Brajkovic and Wiggins fractured their clavicles, one of the body’s most frail bones, particularly since riders often land on their shoulders following crashes.
Horner suffered a concussion and broken nose in Stage 7, finished the stage, but didn’t start Stage 8.
Vinokourov was among several riders who fell in Sunday’s Stage 9, likely the most technical route of the race to date. It featured eight categorized climbs, many on narrow, older and rutted roads. It also rained during the stage with dense fog and road steam compounding the route’s nearly constant undulation.
“The first week of the tour is always nervous,” Tyler Farrar of Wenatchee said prior to Stage 8. “There have been a lot of crashes this year, but there are always crashes every year in the first week.
“I think there have been quite a few small roads, maybe more than traditionally and maybe that has contributed a little bit, but you’re always going to have crashes like that.”
Farrar, who claimed his first individual Tour de France victory in Stage 3, abandoned the Tour last year in Stage 12 after riding for 10 days with a broken bone in his left hand. Farrar has also missed portions of seasons while recovering from crash injuries.
In addition to the withdrawal of several contenders for the overall title, numerous other top riders have crashed and returned to the race — but with their title hopes dashed.
American Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), a four-time top-10 overall Tour de France finisher, has crashed several times and began the ninth stage nearly 4 1/2 minutes behind and no longer in contention. With Horner and Brajkovic, Leipheimer was part of a RadioShack foursome of title contenders. Now only Andreas Kloden of Germany, who began the ninth stage in fourth position, remains. But Kloden also crashed in Stage 9 and his status is unknown.
Two-time defending race titlist Alberto Contador (Saxo-Bank Sungard) has also crashed several times in various stages, including the ninth stage, and began the day in 20th position, trailing by 1:42.
And with about 20 miles left Sunday, two unidentified riders, tumbled over their handlebars when their route was block by a team car.
Leipheimer, who has twice crashed out of the Tour de France and is competing in it for the ninth time, summed up the race’s overt crashes succinctly.
“Unfortunately, the race is being decided by crashes,” Leipheimer told the cycling publication, VeloNews. “I know that crashes are part of the sport, but I don’t think it’s right to have it to this degree.”