THE speedsters of the pack aren’t holding anything back as they sharpen their edge for next month’s Tour de France.That was clear in stage four of the Tour of Switzerland to Wettingen on Tuesday. It ended with a high-speed crash that resulted in NSW-born German sprinter Heinrich Haussler being taken to hospital.For sprinters such as Haussler (Cervelo), finding peak form for the Tour is different than for the overall contenders, who test themselves sparingly to save energy and avoid the risk of crashing. Sprinters revel in bunch sprints that usually highlight the first week of the Tour and where the pack races elbow to elbow at speeds of up to 75km/h.And the best way to find that form is to tap into it in lead-up races such as the nine-day Swiss tour.Stage four showed that there is no shortage of sprinters willing to subscribe to the theory – and the price that can be paid for it.Haussler, who won a stage in last year’s Tour de France, faces the prospect of missing the Tour.He was the principal victim of the spill with 50 metres to go. It was caused by Briton’s Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia), who veered into his line. He was taken to hospital with a deep cut to his right elbow that needed stitching and severe grazing to his right hip, backside and back. ”I didn’t see Cavendish coming,” Haussler said. ”He drove into my wheel and before I knew it, I went down and was lying on the ground. I could have won the stage.”The crash also took down Gerald Ciolek (Milram) and Tom Boonen (QuickStep), who were also vying for the win, and involved up to 15 others as they sped blindly into the mayhem.The stage was won by Italian Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre), who had given himself little chance. ”I was far behind, and I didn’t have any chance to win otherwise,” he said.Cavendish, meanwhile, was slapped with a 25-point deduction in the sprinters’ competition that Haussler leads and 30 seconds on general classification. He was also fined 200 Swiss francs ($204.70).In a bitter twist for Haussler, the uncertainty he faces about his start in the Tour is not new. He had only just recovered from a knee injury that cruelled his Spring classics campaign to return at the Swiss tour and was in need of a strong ride to secure his berth for a Tour start.Haussler produced it with a stage win with which he also took the points competition lead. But as he begins his recovery, the question is whether he has done enough.The crash also left many overall Tour contenders in the race grateful they are of a different mix. The Swiss tour leader, Germany’s Tony Martin (HTC-Columbia), said: ”I could tell it was going to be a nervous sprint, caused partly by the wind and a narrow path between the barriers.”Martin’s teammate and leader for the Tour de France, Australian Michael Rogers, was happy for having already left the race to resume high-altitude training. Seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) posted on Twitter: ”What a day. Nasty crash in the sprint that involved many. Damn, this game is dangerous. Hope all the guys are OK.”
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