Lance Armstrong stayed in third place, but lost a crucial ally for the rest of the Tour de France on a wet and chilly ride when teammate Levi Leipheimer withdrew because of a broken wrist on Friday.
The 13th stage from Vittel to Colmar, won by Germany’s Heinrich Haussler, was less secure for riders Julian Dean and Oscar Freire — they were slightly injured by shots from a suspected air rifle from the roadside.
The top standings didn’t change in the 200km stage through the rolling hills of northeast France that featured three big climbs, including the demanding Col du Platzerwasel.
Armstrong, who trails overall leader Rinaldo Nocentini of Italy by eight seconds and Astana teammate Alberto Contador by two seconds, said a crucial showdown awaits in today’s ride into Switzerland.
“That one is almost a guarantee because it’s uphill,” the seven-time champion said of the ride from Pontarlier, France, to the Swiss ski station of Verbier.
Armstrong and Contador expressed regret about the withdrawal of Leipheimer before the stage.
Leipheimer, who had been fourth overall, 39 seconds behind Nocentini, fell off his bike and broke his wrist in the last 3km of Thursday’s stage.
He had surgery on the wrist on Friday and Astana said he would return to the US as soon as possible to begin his recovery.
“My wrist hurts a lot, but it doesn’t compare to the pain of watching the Tour leave me behind and not be able to ride the Tour with my teammates,” Leipheimer said in a statement.
“He’s a good friend of mine, so it makes it even more unfortunate, but that’s cycling,” said Armstrong, stressing that Leipheimer’s absence was a big loss.
Pounding rain forced many in the pack to don windbreakers.
“It was really, really cold,” said Armstrong, who was riding in his 12th Tour. “To be honest, I don’t remember a day in the Tour that has been colder than that one.”
Some riders were forced to contend with more than just slick conditions on rain-soaked roads. New Zealand’s Dean and Freire, a three-time world champion from Spain, were slightly injured by shots from what their teams suspect was an air rifle.
A projectile embedded in Freire’s thigh was removed by a Rabobank team doctor. Dean’s right index finger was injured, said Marya Pongrace, a spokeswoman for his Garmin-Slipstream team.
Police were investigating.
Both cyclists were expected to start the mostly flat 14th stage, a 200km trek through plains from Colmar to Besancon, the teams said.
The riders were hit in the descent from the Col du Platzerwasel, the hardest of Friday’s climbs about 35km from the finish, Rabobank said.
The biggest subplot in the stage came in the specialty jerseys in mountain and speed disciplines.
Norway’s Thor Hushovd retrieved the green jersey awarded to the Tour’s best sprinter from Mark Cavendish of Britain, and Franco Pellizotti of Italy took the polka-dot jersey of the best climber off Spain’s Egoi Martinez.