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Vinokourov out of Tour on another day of crashes

ST FLOUR, France (Reuters) - Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov was forced out of the Tour de France Sunday after being involved in a huge crash with 90 kms to go in the ninth stage from Issoire.

Later in the stage, 35 kms from the finish line, a television car hit two members of the five-man breakaway at the front of the race, Spain’s Juan Antonio Flecha and Dutchman Johnny Hoogerland.

While Flecha hit the tarmac, Hoogerland was sent flying into a roadside barbed-wire fence but both were able to make it back on their bikes.

The Vinokourov crash, which also forced Belgian Jurgen van den Broeck out of the race, prompted the peloton, led by Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert and Andy Schleck’s Leopard team, to momentarily neutralize the stage as the bunch dramatically eased the pace.

Astana team leader Vinokourov, who was taking part in his last Tour, tumbled into a ditch after a dozen riders fell on the descent from the Pas de Peyrol mountain pass. He was taken back to the race ambulance with a fractured thigh bone by two team mates.

The Kazakh, 37, finished third in the Tour de France in 2003 and won the Spanish Vuelta in 2006.

Also caught in the crash was Van den Broeck, fifth in the Tour last year. The Belgian pulled out a few kilometres after the crash with a shoulder blade fracture.

American David Zabriskie was also caught up in the crash and pulled out with a broken wrist.

Two of his team mates, Briton David Millar and Canadian Ryder Hesjedal, fell off their bikes but continued the race, Garmin-Cervelo sports director Lionel Marie told Reuters by telephone.

Belgian Frederik Willems also fell and he pulled out with a collarbone fracture.

Last year, then overall leader Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland had a stage neutralised after team mate Schleck and scores of other riders crashed on a descent.

Editing by Clare Fallon