The ninth stage of the 2011 Tour de France featured several high-speed crashes. Spain’s Juan-Antonio Flecha and Dutchman Johnny Hoogerland were hit by a French television car and Kazakhstan’s Alexandre Vinokourov broke his thighbone in a pileup. As Matt Brooks reported:

Crashes and road rash are daily occurrences in the Tour de France. With riders piled up at the start of every stage and weaving their way through the pack in hairpin turns, collisions are simply part of the sport.

But you rarely see a crash quite like the one Spain’s Juan-Antonio Flecha and Dutchman Johnny Hoogerland experienced during Sunday’s wreck-ravaged ninth stage.

Flecha was bumped hard by a French television car that swerved into the cyclist while trying to avoid a tree on the side of the road with roughly 22 miles to go. The Spaniard went down immediately, taking Hoogerland with him who was thrown into a barbed wire pasture fence.

Flecha suffered an elbow injury while Hoogerland absorbed several lacerations from the fence. Both riders — who were in contention at the time of the crash — finished the stage and will remain in the competition. Flecha’s Sky team manager, Dave Brailsford said he would consider issuing a formal complaint.

Fellow Spaniard Luis Leon Sanchez won the stage while France’s Thomas Voecklerplaced second to snatch the yellow jersey from Thor Hushovd.

Kazakhstan’s Alexandre Vinokourovwasn’t able to escape his wreck without significant injury, however. The Astana rider fell in a pileup midway through Sunday’s race, flying off his bike seat and down a heavily-wooded embankment. Vinokourov was taken to a Paris hospital by helicopter where had surgery to repair a broken thighbone.

French police opened an investigation after Flecha and Hoogerland were hit and rushed to interview all of the parties involved before the Tour moved on. As AP explained:

French police are investigating the crash in which a Tour de France car sideswiped a group of riders, sending two of them flying off the road.

Police began interviewing witnesses and the driver whose car swerved into Spanish rider Juan Antonio Flecha and Dutch racer Johnny Hoogerland during Sunday’s ninth stage, Jean-Pascal Violet, the public prosecutor for the town of Aurillac, said Monday.

Violet said investigators are acting quickly to interview anyone involved in the crash — if possible, the riders — before the Tour de France moves on and witnesses leave the area.

Team Sky rider Flecha was hit by a Tour television car trying to pass him on a narrow road, knocking him into Hoogerland.

Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford said Monday “all options are open” as to how the team responds.

“We’re working to establish exactly what the facts of the situation are, to really understand what the car was doing there,” Brailsford told a news conference on the Tour’s first rest day. “Having established the facts, we can then look at all the different options available to us. And we can then decide which ones we want to pursue.”

Defending champion Alberto Contador, who himself suffered a crash during the ninth stage, is looking to the Pyrenees stage of the Tour de France to distance himself from rival Andy Schleck. As AP reported:

Defending champion Alberto Contador and main rival Andy Schleck have yet to properly test each other in this year’s Tour de France — they have been too busy avoiding serious injury in nine days of manic racing, which came to a temporary halt with Monday’s rest day.

After Monday’s rest day, there are two flat stages for sprinters before riders enter the Pyrenees in Stage 12, with its colossal climb up Col du Tourmalet — one of the Tour’s most famed and feared ascents.

That stage is so demanding it could decimate the field.

Frenchman Thomas Voeckler leads the race after taking the yellow jersey from Thor Hushovd, while Spaniard Luis Leon Sanchez, who won Stage 9, is second overall. But neither is a Tour contender and both should soon wilt.

Thursday’s stage from Cugnaux to Luz-Ardiden lasts 131.1 miles and ends with a mammoth climb up Luz-Ardiden.

Like the Tourmalet, Luz-Ardiden is so tough it is known as an HC — or “Hors Categorie” — climb, meaning it is even harder than a category 1 climb and is therefore beyond classification.

The pain does not stop there.

Friday’s 13th stage from Pau to Lourdes features an HC trek up Col d’Aubisque, followed by a hair-raising 24.8-mile descent to the line.

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