Spain's Luis Leon Sanchez won a chaotic ninth stage of the Tour de France on Sunday, as French rider Thomas Voeckler claimed the leader's yellow jersey from Thor Hushovd.

Leon-Sanchez outsprinted a breakaway group containing the French riders Voeckler and Sandy Casar to win the stage.

The final sprint on the 218-km ride from Issoire followed a number of high-profile crashes and accidents which slowed the peloton, with the pack eventually crossing the line 3 minutes and 59 seconds after Sanchez.

In the overall standings, Voeckler leads Sanchez by 1:49 and Australia's Cadel Evans by 2:26.

"I cannot win stages every year. I did what I could this time but you have to pick your priorities and mine was the yellow jersey," said Voeckler.

The stage was tarnished by several big pile-ups, continuing a precedent set last week which saw a number of riders, including Briton's Bradley Wiggins, forced to withdraw after heavy falls.

Defending champion Alberto Contador fell early but the Spaniard was unharmed and carried on. Veteran Kazakh rider Alexandre Vinokourov was forced to abandon the race after crashing near the halfway point of the ride from Issoire to Saint-Flour in the Massif Central.

The most serious incident occured when Spanish rider Juan Antonio Flecha was hit by a car deep into the stage and took down Dutch rider Johnny Hoogerland with him. Hoogerland was fortunate to escape a potentially horrific injury as he narrowly missed a barbed wire fence as he fell. Luckily, both were ok to continue in the race.

"It's a shame that such a freak accident should take place in a race like the Tour de France. Organisers should really take measures to protect the riders," said Sanchez after winning his fourth Tour stage.

Monday is a rest day for the Tour.

Vacansoleil-DCM rider Hoogerland of Netherlands lies down after crashing during the ninth stage of the Tour de France 2011 cycling race