Lance Armstrong kept his overall lead in the Tour de France on Monday and got rid of his closest rival -- but not in the way that he wanted.
Joseba Beloki, runner-up to the four-time champion last year and third in 2000 and 2001, was out of this year's showcase cycling race after breaking his right leg, wrist and elbow in a crash that nearly took Armstrong out, too.
They were tearing down the day's last mountain, trying to catch leader Alexandre Vinokourov, when Beloki braked, skidded on the sun-melted tarmac and hit the deck hard. Armstrong, racing just behind, plowed off the road into a field to avoid hitting the stricken Spaniard.
"I was scared like never before," the 31-year-old Texan said. "When you see something like that happening, the first thing you do is to say, `OK, where am I going to go?' I couldn't make it to the right, I couldn't go over him, I could only go left ... Then I found a little path there into the field and just continued on."
Armstrong bumped across the sun-baked grass to the bottom of the field, cutting off a hairpin bend. Then, he hopped off his bike to carry it back onto the road, climbed back into the saddle and sped off in pursuit of riders who'd got ahead of him on the bend.
Above him, Beloki lay in agony. An ambulance rushed him to a hospital. Tour doctors said the 29-year-old star of the ONCE-Eroski team needed surgery for a fractured right femur and a plaster cast for a badly fractured right elbow and a fractured right wrist.
Going into Monday's mountainous ninth stage of the three-week Tour, Beloki had been second overall, just 40 seconds behind Armstrong.
"You hate to see a guy who's out there, doing his best and a real threat for the race, go down like that," said Armstrong, who is aiming to tie Miguel Indurain's record of five straight Tour wins.
This Tour has been eventful for Armstrong from the start. He was involved in a crash on the second day and struggled with a faulty brake Sunday.