A handful of top riders, including Alexandre Vinokourov, Jurgen van den Broeck and Dave Zabriskie, were forced to abandon the tour after a nasty crash on a mountain descent midway through Stage 9.
Kazakhstani Vinokourov, leader of the Astana team and riding his last ever Tour de France, flew off the mountain road as the peloton descended the wet roads of the category-two Puy Mary mountain into the trees below.
Unconfirmed reports later stated that Vinokourov had sustained a fracture to his femur. If so, this might push Vinokourov into a premature retirement from professional cycling, with the 37-year-old unlikely to return to the saddle for some time.
Dutchman van den Broeck, who was one place behind Vinokourov in 11th place in the individal yellow jersey standings, hit the ground hard and had to be tended to by medics for some time.
He was taken to hospital with a reported shoulder-blade.
Other riders to abandon due to the crash included American Dave Zabriskie, riding the tour on a vegan diet, and Frederik Willems, van den Broeck's Omega Pharma-Lotto teammate.
Vinokourov, winner of four Tour stages over his career and third placed overall in 2003 and fifth in 2005, had earlier this month announced this was to be the last Tour as a rider.
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