Lance Armstrong was caught up in three crashes in the eighth stage of the Tour de France as the seven-time champion struggled up Sunday's steepest climb.
The three incidents dealt a major blow to Armstrong's hopes of an eighth Tour title, with his main rivals picking up valuable time over him on the La Ramaz ascent, the tougher of the two climbs on the 189-kilometer (117.4-mile) course from Station des Rousses to Morzine-Avoriaz.
With about 19 kilometers left, shortly after La Ramaz, Armstrong was held up by a rider who crashed in front of him. Though the Texan rider did not fall, he slowly got back on his bike, in seeming exasperation at his third tie-up.
Earlier, with less than 51 kilometers to go, Armstrong tumbled to the asphalt while trying to negotiate a roundabout along with the pack. His team quickly got him another bike and he returned to the race with the back of his jersey and his bib numbers torn. Armstrong then struggled up the steepest portion of La Ramaz, losing crucial seconds to the main overall contenders, such as defending champion Alberto Contador of Spain.
An earlier incident involving Armstrong and fellow yellow-jersey contender Cadel Evans of Australia occurred at about the 6-kilometer mark.
Armstrong averted a spill but world champion Evans – who is in second place overall — fell, ripping his shorts and scraping up his elbow and knees. The incident came as several breakaway riders pushed the pace, clocking an average speed of 50.8 kilometers per hour for the first hour —the fastest start this year. Sylvain Chavanel was defending the yellow jersey as riders set off into the Alpine mountains for a punishing stage which could shake up the standings.