American Lance Armstrong suffered a broken collarbone during the Vuelta Castilla y Leon in Spain on Monday, the organisers said, throwing in doubt his bid to compete for a record eighth Tour de France title.
Television images showed the 37-year-old falling along with several other riders about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the finish line of the first stage of the event in central Spain. He was then seen clutching his arm sitting on the grass after taking his helmet off.
"Lance Armstrong suffered a break in the middle of his right collarbone," the race organisers said in a statement, after the Texan underwent an X-ray at a hospital in the city of Valladolid. "After receiving medical attention and treatment for pain, Armstrong left the hospital this afternoon."
Three men, nine Tour de France victories: Alberto Contador (L), Carlos Sastre and Lance Armstrong before Stage 1 of the Castilla y León in Spain
Armstrong was transported via ambulance to the hospital where it was confirmed he did suffer a break of the right clavicle.
According to spokesman Mark Higgins, Armstrong will return home to the United States to make a decision on surgery options.
“In 17 years as a pro I have been lucky to avoid one of the most common cycling injuries," Armstrong said. "The crash has put my upcoming calendar in jeopardy but the most important thing for me right now is to get back home and rest up and begin my rehab.” Astana team doctor Pedro Celaya was with Armstrong at the hospital.
“Lance suffered a fracture of the middle third of the right collarbone as well as some bruises on his right hip and arm,” Dr. Celaya added.
“At the end of the race, people started to get a bit excited to win the race," Armstrong said from Hospital Clínico Universitario of Valladolid. "Everybody wanted to be in the front and couple of guys crashed in front of me, crossed the wheels and I hit them over the top. It happens quick when it happens.
"It could have been worse, I suppose. I have road rash abrasions on right hip and arm but the big problem is the broken collarbone. I never had this before. It is pretty painful. Now we must have to see how it heals. I will go back to the US and there we will decide on surgery,” he added.
When asked what this means for his Giro bid, Armstrong said his first priority was dealing with the pain, then dealing with recovery.
“I am very disappointed," he said. "Very. Especially for the Giro. Now the biggest problem is the pain. It hurts. We will see. The guys in the hospital in Valladolid were great and very nice and helpful. But now I feel miserable. I need to relax a couple of days, fix the problem and make a plan. I hope I can tell you more about the Giro in a week."
The veteran racer, who has raced cyclo-cross and mountain bike events, has had his fair share of injuries, but never a collar bone break.
“I was thinking the same thing in the hospital that this never happened in my 17 years of pro cycling," he added. "That’s cycling. It’s nobody’s fault. Crashes happen all the time. It is part of the job.”
This is Armstrong's second European race since returning to the pro peloton in January's Tour Down Under in Australia. He finished more than eight minutes behind Milan-San Remo winner Mark Cavendish last Saturday. The León race was also the first he was competing with teammate Alberto Contador, who won the 2008 edition before winning the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana. The pair plan to race the 2009 Tour de France together.
Armstrong had planned to race the Giro in May, his first ever attempt. His injury may mean those plans be scrapped in favour of preparing for his return to France on July 4, when the Tour begins in Monaco. Contador is skipping the 2009 Giro to focus on winning the Tour, which he won in 2007 while racing for Armstrong's Discovery Channel team.
Click here for a short video of Armstrong following the crash.
Joaquin Sobrino Martinez (Burgos Monumental) won Stage 1, followed by Rock Racing's David Vitoria.