To Lance Armstrong's dismay, the Tour de France is turning into a demolition derby, with crashes galore -- including one that took down the five-time champion.
After largely avoiding the bumps, bruises and scrapes that plagued other riders, the Texan tumbled off his bike early in Friday's sixth stage but quickly recovered to rejoin the race.
"It was a typical early race crash," Armstrong said. "There's nothing you can do. You hit the brakes, but bikes don't stop that fast, so I just went over."
While he wasn't hurt, the spill was Armstrong's biggest scare in his bid for a record sixth straight Tour de France crown.
"It wasn't bad, a little bit on the arm, a little bit on the hip," he said, listing his bruises after the 122-mile stage from Bonneval to Angers in western France.
Tom Boonen, a former teammate of Armstrong's riding in his first Tour, won the stage in a sprint, while another crash behind him took out or held up dozens of riders near the finish line.
Armstrong was among those delayed and ended up 34th. His major rival, German Jan Ullrich, was 26th but didn't make up time on Armstrong. Under the rules, competitors held up in a crash in the final kilometer of a stage are given the same time as the winner, in this case, 4 hours 33 minutes 41 seconds.
Thomas Voeckler of French team Brioches La Boulangere held onto the overall lead. Armstrong remains 9:35 back in sixth place, and Ullrich trails him by 55 seconds.
Voeckler, the French champion, was tied up in Armstrong's crash and rolled over his feet.
"I hope I didn't twist his ankle," Voeckler said.
An exasperated Armstrong suggested organizers could do a better job to avoid such troubles.
"You saw the big crash at the finish, this is stressful," Armstrong said. "Coming in, they've got the barriers really tight, and you've got 200 guys racing through there at 40 mph.
"I don't know what . . . they're thinking, but you're going to have crashes."
Crashes are nothing new. Riders accustomed to grueling mountain climbs and punishing weather often take tumbles. It's common to see riders competing with bandaged chins, black eyes and stitched-up wounds.
This year, a mix of nervous, aggressive riding and narrow roads made slick by rain have caused several collisions and spills in the first six stages.
The daily medical statement issued by Tour organizers Friday listed a dozen riders who had a variety of injuries, including broken ribs, injured knees and cut wrists and necks.
Tyler Hamilton, a former teammate of Armstrong's, hurt his shoulder. But it was of little worry for the thick-skinned American: He wowed crowds a year ago by riding most of the Tour with a broken collarbone.
He still has some psychological scars.
"His morale is not so good because he's thinking about last year," Phonak team manager Urs Freuler said.
Several Armstrong teammates also have been entangled in crashes. Spaniards Jose Luis Rubeira and Manuel Beltran received stitches after falling.
Another Armstrong teammate, Viatceslav Ekimov of Russia, arrived back at the team bus Friday with a trickle of blood down his right knee.
Italian sprinting specialists Alessandro Petacchi and Mario Cipollini withdrew from the race before Friday's stage. Petacchi, the sprint sensation of last year's Tour, injured a shoulder in a crash on a rain-soaked road Thursday.