SAINT-FLOUR, France (AP) — Defending champion Alberto Contador crashed again in Sunday's ninth stage of the Tour de France, and the Spaniard is welcoming the chance to rest his bruised right knee on Monday's day off.
The Spaniard lost his balance and fell heavily with about 74.5 miles left in the 129.2-mile trek from Issoire to Saint-Flour in France's Massif Central — banging the same knee he had hurt in a fall last Wednesday.
"I had a problem with my handlebars, which knocked into another rider's saddle," Contador said after safely completing Sunday's stage in 12th place. "It pushed me toward the spectators on the side, and I went into them and the bike hit me on the right knee again."
The three-time Tour champion recovered quickly and was soon chasing down the main pack. He then had a mechanical problem forcing him to change bikes just as he was about to catch up.
That was a minor glitch and the Saxo Bank rider soon caught up again and rode on, crossing the line in the same time as his main Tour rivals Andy Schleck of Luxembourg and Australia's Cadel Evans.
"It was a bad day, I was in pain for the whole stage," Contador said. "With a bit of ice and rest I can recover."
Contador remains 1 minute, 30 seconds behind Schleck in the overall standings, and 1:41 behind Evans.
Contador also fell in Wednesday's fifth stage, where he was lucky to escape with just cuts and bruises.
"We are experiencing a very difficult Tour in terms of accidents, but you have to be optimistic," Contador said. "I have to focus on my recovery. I think the rest day comes at a good time for me."
Still, Contador was relieved to avoid more serious injury.
A mass crash later in the stage took down about 30 riders and forced Alexandre Vinokourov to withdraw from the race.
"The crash sent shivers down my spine when I saw all the riders on the floor," Contador said. "The peloton slowed down a bit to see what was happening.
"It was a big crash, we were going very fast. I think this bend should have been indicated by the organizers."
The 28-year-old Contador had more bad luck earlier in the race.
He lost more than a minute during the Tour's first stage when he was slowed by a crash that split the pack in two, and he found himself lagging behind Schleck, the Tour runner-up to Contador last year and in 2009.
Contador was cleared to race in the Tour by the Spanish cycling federation after testing positive for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol late in last year's race.
The International Cycling Union and World Anti-Doping Agency have appealed the ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Should they win the case, which is set to be heard in August, Contador faces the strange prospect of losing his 2010 title days after possibly winning another one.
Contador was roundly jeered by fans before the race when the teams were unveiled at the official Tour presentation, but before Sunday's stage he was cheered by many fans near the start line.