ROUEN, France -- On a day when two riders were hospitalized after a crash, Lance Armstrong played it safe and remained in third place in the Tour de France.
Armstrong, bidding for his fourth straight Tour title, finished in the pack trailing Jaan Kirsipuu of Estonia, who broke out early and later raced to a sprint finish in the fifth stage.
''It was a good day for us, we didn't have anybody in the crash,'' said Jogi Muller, press spokesman for Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service team. ''Our strategy is to stay out of such trouble and keep Lance out of the wind -- it was windy out there today.''
Kirsipuu, riding for AG2R, was timed in 4 hours, 13 minutes, 33 seconds for the 120.9-mile trek from Soissons to the Normandy city of Rouen. He crossed the line just ahead of Denmark's Michael Sandstod of CSC-Tiscali and Belgian Ludo Dierckxsens of Lampre.
The victory was Kirsipuu's third in the Tour, after stage wins in 1999 and 2001. In '99, when Armstrong won his first Tour, Kirsipuu was the only other cyclist to wear the leader's yellow jersey.
''The sprint was really hard because everybody sped up in the last kilometer,'' Kirsipuu told France-2 Television. ''My legs gave out on me, and at the end, it was no longer my abilities as a sprinter that gave me the win, but pure courage.''
A group of riders crashed near the 105.4-mile mark, with Marco Pinotti of Lampre temporarily losing consciousness. He was forced to quit the Tour to receive treatment at a hospital for a broken nose and severe facial bruises.
Lotto's Rik Verbrugghe, who was also involved in the crash, was able to finish the race, more than 13 minutes after Kirsipuu. But he was taken to a hospital afterward to be treated for a shoulder injury.
The race got off to a quick start. With several groups pushing the pace as they tried to muster breakaways, the main pack of riders covered 29.8 miles in the first hour along the flat course.
''Lance said the first two hours were fast,'' Muller said. ''The team was great. In every major attack early on, there was someone there.''
The main pack, including overall leader Igor Gonzalez Galdeano of Spain and Armstrong, finished 33 seconds later. Armstrong was in third place in the overall standings, 7 seconds behind Gonzalez Galdeano.
Armstrong is the heavy favorite to win the Tour. He plans to keep close to the overall leader in the early, flatter stages, then make a move for the lead when the race moves into the mountain stages next week.
Kirsipuu, Sandstod and Dierckxsens were among seven racers who broke away from the main pack at the 68.2-mile mark. It was the first time in this year's Tour that a small group of breakaway riders kept their lead all the way to the finish line.
Riders passed through farmland full of wheat, potatoes and corn. Thousands of fans lined the route, some waving American flags and others holding up signs with words of support for French rider Laurent Jalabert, currently in 15th place and 37 seconds off the pace. Some fans built a huge statue of a cyclist out of straw.
The course took the 189 riders near the burial place of former Tour champion Jacques Anquetil, one of only four men to win the race five times. It ended along the Seine River in downtown Rouen, capital of the first French region to be liberated by American troops in World War II.
Thursday's stage marked the first withdrawals in the 21-day competition. Belgian champion Tom Steels, who won nine stages in the 1998, 1999 and 2000 Tours, was the first to pull out of the competition after fewer than two hours of racing.
As part of its effort to crack down on doping, the International Cycling Union carried out blood tests early Thursday on 34 riders, including Gonzalez Galdeano, from four teams. None of the tests turned up positive.
Friday's sixth stage is a 123.69-mile stretch through Normandy from Forges-les-Eaux to Alencon.
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