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A string of crash injuries has meant that the Tour will have a first-time winner this year. Andy Schleck, the 2010 Tour winner, dropped out before Stage 4 following a crash injury a day earlier, though the Luxembourg rider said before the race that he wasn’t in good enough shape to contend this year.

According to his spokesman, Contador said he wasn’t exactly sure what caused the crash — which happened while he was speeding downhill at over 70 kph (about 40 mph) about halfway through the stage. Contador began the stage in ninth place overall — 4 minutes, 8 seconds back of Gallopin.

“He explained to me just a few minutes ago that he (hit) a stone or a hole in the road or something — and he crashed,” Contador spokesman Jacinto Vidarte told The Associated Press by phone during the stage. “He couldn’t do anything about it.”

TV images showed thick streams of blood pouring from Contador’s right knee after the crash, his hip was scraped up, and the back of his jersey torn. Team director Bjarne Riis rushed over and bandaged the knee. Philippe Mauduit, a team sporting director, said initial X-rays showed that a Contador had a fractured shin.

Contador then sat back down on the grass bank and changed his left shoe as riders weaved through the narrow gap between him and his bicycle. After several minutes, he got back in the saddle of a new bike, and three teammates who had dropped back escorted him to try to make up lost time as the peloton pulled away up the Col du Platzerwaswel mountain pass.

The Spaniard rode for about another half-hour, clearly in pain, and finally stopped, got off, wiped his eyes and climbed into a team car.

Nibali said he was riding next to Contador, and almost went down himself.

“I feared that the Tour might be over for me too,” the Italian said. “There were a lot of risks today, and I’m really sorry for Alberto Contador. I was right behind him and luckily I was able to avoid him. It was on a descent. The road wasn’t in great condition.

“I don’t know what happened, but it was just incredible,” said Nibali. “He fell right in front of me and was rolling on the floor. We must have been going about 60 kilometers per hour.”

There were crashes elsewhere.

Italian rider Michele Scarponi — Nibali’s Astana teammate — sustained a heavy crash coming down from the penultimate climb up to Col des Chevreres. He misjudged a turn and thudded into a protective crash barrier, flipping over his bike and colliding with a spectator, who was unhurt. Scarponi was able to continue riding.

British rider Geraint Thomas also crashed but kept racing with blood pouring out of his left elbow.

The race resumes Wednesday with a slightly hilly 187.5-kilometer (116.3-mile) route from Besancon to Oyonnax in eastern France. Stage 11 will feature four moderate climbs toward the end.

The three-week race ends on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on July 27.