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Lance Armstrong breaks collarbone

BALTANAS, Spain - With the road narrowing and cyclists piling up in front of him, Lance Armstrong tumbled hard off his bike during the first stage of the Vuelta of Castilla and Leon race yesterday.

He was left with a broken collarbone that will need surgery - and questions about whether he'll be able to contend for an eighth Tour de France title in July.

"I'm alive!" he wrote on his Twitter feed. "Broken clavicle [right]. Hurts like hell for now. Surgery in a couple of days. Thanks for all the well wishes."

Armstrong will fly back to the United States after being knocked out of the race. "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," he said in a statement.

Armstrong is scheduled to compete in the Giro d'Italia from May 9-May 31, then the Tour de France from July 4-26.

"I think for the Giro it's a very big problem," Armstrong said as he left Valladolid University Hospital. "For now, the biggest problem is just the pain."

Armstrong won seven straight Tours from 1999-2005 before retiring. He returned after 3 1/2 years, and at 37, he was hoping for another triumphant ride through Paris.

Astana team leader Johan Bruyneel said on his Twitter feed there were no complications in the break, and suggested Armstrong could be riding soon. "Clean collarbone fracture," Bruyneel said. "Should be fast recovery." Added Astana spokesman Philippe Maertens: "We are confident he can still race the Tour de France, of course. He will be off the bike, but he can still do condition training."

Armstrong was tossed off his bike during a pileup 12 1/2 miles from the stage's finish. The Texan was grimacing and trying to hold his right arm as he entered an ambulance.

"I've never had this happen before; it's pretty painful," he said. "I feel really miserable."

After falling off his bike, Armstrong sat in the grass beside the road, his right shoulder slumped and his wrist resting on his right thigh. When help arrived, he motioned toward his right shoulder. Armstrong eventually walked to the ambulance and climbed into the back.

Armstrong said the crash was no one's fault, adding: "A couple of guys crashed in front of me, I crossed my wheel, then I hit them and over the top."

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