'Roads are not crux of the problem' for Tour de France crashes

Alain Gallopin, the RadioShack sporting director, believes rush at front is to blame for accidents in Tour de France.

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AIGURANDE, FRANCE // Alain Gallopin, the RadioShack sporting director, has played down criticism of Tour de France organisers' choice of route after the first week of racing left the dreams of several riders in tatters.

Two key members of RadioShack's team - Janez Brajkovic and Chris Horner - have been forced out after suffering injuries in crashes that some riders have blamed on the choice of roads.

Levi Leipheimer, the American, crashed alongside Horner, his teammate, eventually crossing the finish line on Friday over three minutes behind the stage winner Mark Cavendish.

Horner, with a broken nose and concussion, was 12 minutes adrift and pulled out of the Tour yesterday morning, leaving the German Andreas Kloden to shoulder RadioShack's yellow-jersey hopes.

Meanwhile, Gallopin brushed off claims that narrow roads were the cause of the carnage.

"I hear a lot of people questioning the choice of roads used in the race so far, but that is not the crux of the problem," the Frenchman said.

Referring to Friday's big crash, he added: "There was a crosswind and as the peloton approached a section of road sheltered by trees, everyone rushed to get to the front to try and position themselves.

"That's why the crash happened."

Leipheimer on Friday took a swipe at the organisers' decision to mix up the first week's stages - sprint stages, uphill finishes and a team time trial - in a bid to provide thrills and entertainment.

"Unfortunately, the race is being decided by crashes," he said. "Of course, crashes are part of the sport but I don't think it's right to have it to this degree."

A seasoned professional, Leipheimer paid a price on Thursday after he made an amateur's mistake: riding on a strip of white traffic line. It was raining and, as expected, he came down hard.

Since the defending champion Alberto Contador lost over a minute in a crash on the first stage, nerves have been on edge at the other teams with contenders for the yellow jersey.

It has led to a rush to stay near the front of the peloton in case a crash splits the bunch, as happened on stage one.

However, some believe that better bike-handling skills would reduce accidents.

"It's not just the roads," said the Welshman Geraint Thomas, who lost his team leader at Sky, Bradley Wiggins, to a broken collarbone on Friday.

"In Belgium, with the cobbles it was more dangerous and nobody complained then. It's just the riders, it's down to us," he said.

"It's up to us to chill out a bit, as well. There's always a fight to get to the front of the peloton, but you can do that without having to take so many risks. Some guys get crazy sometimes."

He added: "We are all racing together week in, week out, we should look after each other."

Thomas, an Olympic champion in the team pursuit, admitted his experience in track cycling has helped him to handle his machine better.

But asked whether the peloton was wary of certain riders, he admitted: "For sure. If you end up behind them you think, 'Oh no, not him again.' But all you can do is try to avoid them."