Lance Armstrong kept his overall lead in the Tour de France by finishing in 32nd place Thursday, with heavy rain and crashes making for a tough ride during a sixth stage won by Italy's Lorenzo Bernucci.
Armstrong's advantage over Alexandre Vinokourov narrowed to 1 minute 2 seconds after the cyclist from Kazakhstan placed second in the ride from Troyes to Nancy. Armstrong's teammate, George Hincapie, remained second overall, 55 seconds behind the Texan.
"It wasn't pretty today," said Armstrong, who is bidding for a seventh straight title before retirement.
The pack rode through downpours that made roads slick and chilled riders. It wasn't enough to deter Bernucci, who won a Tour stage for the first time. He kissed his wedding ring as he crossed the line and dedicated the victory to his wife.
The Fassa Bortolo team rider took the lead on the final turn when French racer Christophe Mengin slipped and crashed into a safety barrier. The finish was almost within sight, less than a half-mile away on a crowd-lined finishing straightaway.
At least four other riders plowed into Mengin and went down, too. Armstrong was slowed but did not appear to tumble.
Mengin finished way back with a puffed, bruised left eye but won the daily prize given to the rider judged to have ridden most courageously or aggressively.
Mengin had led for much of the 123-mile stage, riding with a small group of four riders who surged ahead of the chasing pack. Mengin then took the lead alone heading into Nancy, on a final uphill climb. But he was about to be caught when he fell.
Bernucci said the final turn was dangerous because of the rain. After Mengin crashed, "I gave everything I had," the Italian said.
"I am truly very happy," he added. "I wasn't expecting it. When I got to the end, I saw there was no one there."
Vinokourov narrowly avoided the crash to finish second in the stage. He had started the day in seventh place overall, 1:21 behind Armstrong. But he narrowed that deficit and climbed to third place overall.
Two years ago, Armstrong was caught in a 35-man crash as riders arrived in a similar sprint stage. He escaped with cuts and bruises. Armstrong said he was scared it would happen again Thursday.
"It was a hairy finish with a lot of turns," he said. "The last corner was nearly blocked and so there was nothing you could do. When you're behind a crash like that you have to just pick your way through and try and get to the finish."
Armstrong does not look to win sprint stages but understands the importance of not falling too far off the pace. Otherwise, it could leave him exposed to the elements and make it harder for teammates to chase breakaway rivals.
"If you stay at the back you're expending a lot more energy," said Sean Yates, a former professional cyclist and now a sporting director in Armstrong's Discovery Channel team. "Better to stay out of trouble, out of the wind. Why take a risk when you can avoid it? You have to try and eliminate any eventualities the best way you can."
The Tour will observe a minute of silence Friday at the start of the stage from Luneville to Karlsruhe, Germany, to mourn victims of the terror attacks in London.