Thor Hushovd of Norway won a bumpy third stage of the Tour de France over cobblestones on Tuesday, while Lance Armstrong was held up by a flat tire and lost time to other title contenders.
Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara finished in a five-man group behind Hushovd but regained the yellow jersey he ceded a day earlier to France’s Sylvain Chavanel. Armstrong, the seven-time champion, dropped to 18th place overall, 2 minutes, 30 seconds behind.
Hushovd finished ahead of Britain’s Geraint Thomas and Australia’s Cadel Evans in a sprint finish among the leading group of riders.
Chavanel wore the yellow jersey for Tuesday’s 132-mile ride as the race headed from Belgium to France. But the Frenchman had to cope with two flat tires, along with a mechanical problem, and lost time on Cancellara.
“It’s not bad, I just didn’t have the legs,” said Chavanel, with his face caked in dust. He won Monday’s stage in a breakaway that took a lot out of him. “I had a nice day in yellow, over the cobbles, it’s great.”
Cobblestones test bikes and bodies alike, and the stage had been billed as the biggest trouble spot of the first week, even after two straight days of crashes on slick roads. It was the first time since 2004 riders had to contend with cobblestones at cycling’s premier race.
Frank Schleck of Luxembourg, who won the Tour of Switzerland last month, crashed on the fourth of seven sectors of cobblestones. His Saxo Bank team said he was out of the race and taken to a hospital.
Cancellara, who won the opening prologue, was delighted to retrieve the leader’s jersey.
“Yesterday I gave it up, today I took it,” he said. “We can call it a good day for Saxo Bank despite the loss of Frank, a great friend.”
Defending champion Alberto Contador of Spain, his abilities on cobblestones in doubt, and last year’s runner-up Andy Schleck, Frank’s younger brother, were among the title contenders who gained time on Armstrong.
Andy Schleck was fifth, in the same time as Hushovd: 4 hours, 49 minutes, 38 seconds. Spain’s Contador came in 13th, 1 minute, 13 seconds back. Armstrong was 32nd, 2:08 back.
In the overall standings, Cancellara leads second-place Thomas by 23 seconds and two-time Tour runner-up Evans by 39. Contador is ninth, 1:40 back.
The three-week race ends in Paris on July 25.