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Lance Armstrong on Thursday received a blow to his hopes of winning a seventh yellow jersey when team-mate Manuel 'Triki' Beltran crashed out of the Tour de France on stage 12 between Brianon and Digne Les Bains. Armstrong admitted this evening that Beltran's absence could be "critical with three tough days in the Pyrenees to come".
Speaking to journalists tonight in Digne, Armstrong's Discovery Channel team boss Johan Bruyneel revealed that Beltran had fallen on the descent off the Cte des Desmoiselles Coiffes, around 65km into today's stage.
"Someone was apparently riding erratically in front of him and Triki clipped his wheel," Bruyneel said. "He rode on for 10 or 15 kilometres but he was obviously concussed. He suddenly had no strength left in his legs and he couldn't even remember the fall. The race doctor said that he had to abandon. He was taken to hospital in Gap for overnight observation and some scans."
The Tour's medical bulletin tonight stated that initial scans performed immediately after the Spaniard's arrival in Gap showed that he had suffered no head injuries in the crash.
Bruyneel went on to express his regret at Beltran's enforced abandon, admitting that it was "a tough blow for the team". "Now the rest of the team will be need to work more but I am confident that I can take up the slack," Bruyneel added.
Beltran lay 41st on general classification this morning, 10 days into a Tour in which he had appeared to struggle for form. Bruyneel made a tacit admission to that effect this evening when he admitted that, whereas in the past they had been among Armstrong's bankers in the high Alps and Pyrenees, Beltran and Chechu Rubiera had done most of their work in the moyenne montagne this year.
The 34-year-old Beltran was one of four riders to abandon as the peloton edged towards the French Riviera on Thursday and heat and fatigue began to kick in. The other riders who have be packed their bags on Thursday night were sprinters Robert Hunter (Phonak) and Angelo Furlan (Domina Vacanze), and Saunier Duval rider Nicolas Fritsch. Just 162 of the 189 riders who started the Grande Boucle in Noirmoutier on July 2 now remain in the race.
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