A massive pileup crippled the leaders in the rain-slicked final turn of Thursday's Stage 6, handing the day's victory to a relatively unknown Italian rider, Lorenzo Bernucci, from team Fassa-Bortolo.
Bernucci stage win in Nancy
Bernucci stage win in Nancy
After leading for the last 84 miles of the 124-mile course from Troyes to Nancy, Frenchman and hometown favorite Christophe Mengin (Francaise des Jeux) was in the midst of a desperate sprint just half a mile from the finish line, with the peloton in hot pursuit, when he slipped on a 90-degree right turn and slammed into the steel barriers.
Mengin's fall caused the largest crash of the Tour so far, swallowing most of the sprinters, including previous stage winners Robbie McEwen and Tom Boonen.
"No injuries, but it was a waste of a day," McEwen told the Outdoor Life Network (OLN). The Australian had hoped to gain ground on the green-jersey-clad Boonen before the Tour heads to the mountains.
Just two of the lead riders slipped through the crashT-Mobile's Alexandre Vinokourov and Bernucciwho won his first ever professional victory, not to mention first Tour stage win.
Since the crash occurred along the final stretch, riders in the fallen group all received the same time. Armstrong, who was part of the group but not involved in the crash, finished in 19th place.
After launching a bold attack in the first miles of racing, a group of five riders had blasted to over eight minutes ahead of the peloton by the 50-mile point. Mengin, riding just a few miles from his hometown, was joined by Mauro Gerosa (LIQ), Karsten Kroon (RAB), Jaan Kirsipuu (C.A), and Stephane Auge (COF).
Kroon and Auge, competing fiercely for the polka dot climber's jersey, went head to head in sprints for the middle two of four hills, with Kroon winning both.
But neither Kroon nor Auge attacked on the day's final hill, the Cote de Maron. They left that to Gerosa, Kirsipuu, and the Frenchman Menginwho raced alone across the summit just eight miles from the finish, hoping to put as much distance as he could between himself and the accelerating peloton, 40 seconds behind, before the final miles.
With 1.4 miles to go, Vinokourov exploded from the peloton's right shoulder and nearly caught the exhausted Mengin just before the final turn, when Mengin went down within sight of the finish line. Bernucci, following Vinokourov's counter attack, slipped past both of them just before the rest of the leaders met the pavement.
At the end of Stage 6, Armstrong is still 55 seconds ahead of teammate George Hincapie in the overall standings, and will wear yellow for the 69th time in tomorrow's 142-mile ride from Luneville to Karlsruhe.
Vinokourov advances to third place, one minute and two seconds behind Armstrong. Team CSC riders Jens Voigt and American Bobby Julich round out the top five, 1:04 and 1:07 behind Armstrong respectively.
Kroon and Auge ended the day tied for climbing points with seven, three days before the Tour's first mountain stage.