The death of a spectator overshadowed an intriguing 14th stage of the Tour de France which saw Rinaldo Nocentini desperately cling on to the leader’s yellow jersey in cycling’s premier event.
A woman died after being hit by a police motorcycle on Saturday afternoon in Wittelsheim, a village in Alsace in northeastern France which is 40 kilometers from the start of the race’s leg from Colmar to Besancon. French police told CNN that two other people were injured and taken to hospital. The Tour released a statement on its official Web site saying the 61-year-old woman was hit when she crossed the road after a group of cyclists passed, then the motorcycle slid and injured two other spectators. A 36-year-old is in hospital with neck pain, and a 61-year-old has a broken leg The incident marred an eventful day’s racing in which George Hincapie leapt up into second place overall, five seconds behind Nocentini, following a 12-man breakaway. The American finished eighth in a group of eight who were all 16 seconds behind stage winner Serguei Ivanov of Russia, and had been ahead of Nocentini until the 143-strong peloton made up time at the end. The Columbia team rider’s rise up the standings saw his compatriot and former teammate, seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, drop to fourth place overall.
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Armstrong was still eight seconds off the lead after finishing 49th, with Astana teammate Alberto Contador six seconds adrift in third following his classification of 37th. Nocentini was relieved to retain first place and was grateful to his AG2R teammates, with Nicolas Roche finishing second after powering past Hayden Roche in the final few hundred meters as Ivanov claimed his second stage victory eight years after his first. “It was a very difficult day today because we’re getting tired from all the effort in the last week,” the Italian, who finished 45th, told the race’s official Web site. “We had a rider up front so we didn’t have to ride but because Hincapie was in the move there was a big risk of losing the yellow jersey. “Eventually, with 50 kilometers to go, our directeur sportif Vincent Lavenu said, ‘Okay, let’s go! Let’s catch the guys.’ Okay this wasn’t possible but we had to limit our losses and keep the jersey. “I told the guys, ‘Listen, I don’t mind. If you want to go for it and defend the jersey, that’s great. But if you don’t want to, that’s okay. You’ve already worked so hard over the last few days so it doesn’t really matter.’ “Eventually I’ve kept the lead by just five seconds, so I’m really pleased with how this Tour has gone for me so far. And I’m really grateful for the commitment from my team.”
Thor Hushovd extended his lead in the green jersey sprint category as he finished at the head of the peloton in 13th place, while nearest rival Mark Cavendish finished right at the back of it in 154th after the two tussled in the closing stages. The riders will now head back into the mountains through the Swiss Alps for the 207.5km 15th stage from Pontarlier to Verbier, with the climbers expected to come to the fore again just a week ahead of the finish in Paris.