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Some riders ready to take to the hills

CHATEAUROUX, France — Finally, the mountains.

After seven days of narrow, sinewy roads and sometimes fierce rain, Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck await a change of scenery. They made it through the crash-marred first week of the Tour de France relatively unscathed. Although the hills in today's eighth stage are far less daunting than later climbs in the Pyrenees and Alps, they will be welcome.

"It will be a relief after several nervous and dangerous stages," Schleck said.

Sprinter Mark Cavendish won Friday's seventh stage. Thor Hushovd kept the yellow jersey.

Contender Bradley Wiggins was knocked out of the race after breaking his left collarbone in a crash that took down several riders about 23 miles from the finish.

Cadel Evans remained in second place, 1 second behind Hushovd. Schleck was 12 seconds behind in seventh, and Contador was 1:42 off the lead in 24th place.

After Thursday's treacherous rainfall, described by Evans as the worst he had seen on seven Tours, riders again set off under a heavy shower Friday on the 135-mile trip from Le Mans to Chateauroux.

The rain was brief, soon turning to sunshine, and it appeared the stage would be a pleasant stroll through the French countryside as the pack let an early four-man breakaway go.

Then two crashes came out of nowhere, the second one taking down Wiggins, the Sky team leader who finished fourth overall in 2009, and American Chris Horner, who fractured his nose but finished the stage.

Horner was later diagnosed with a concussion and a bruised calf, and his RadioShack team was to decide today if he can keep racing.

"Another day, another crash," RadioShack's Yaroslav Popovych sang as he reached the team bus.

Outside Sky's team bus, the mood was downcast.

"Really bad day for the team," Sky teammate Geraint Thomas said. "We were lucky until now."

.FAST FACTS

Tour de France

Friday: Stage 7 was 135 miles, from Le Mans to Chateauroux, ending in a mass sprint. Mark Cavendish won his second stage of this Tour, beating Alessandro Petacchi and Andre Greipel on the line. Contender Bradley Wiggins crashed and pulled out with a collarbone injury.

Yellow jersey: Thor Hushovd kept the overall lead, 1 second ahead of Cadel Evans.

Today: A 117-mile ride from Aigurande to Super-Besse Sancy.

TV: 8 a.m., Versus

Some riders ready to take to the hills 07/08/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 8, 2011 7:44pm]
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