France's Sylvain Chavanel of the Quick Step team claimed the leader's yellow jersey after winning the second stage of the Tour de France here on Monday.

Chavanel crossed the line alone over four minutes ahead of the first group of riders following a 201km ride from Brussels which was marked by a series of falls, and a protest by the peloton.

Most of the challengers, including Luxembourg's Andy Schleck, fell on the descent from the Stockeu climb, 30km from the finish line, which was made extremely slippery by the rain.

Chavanel leads Swiss Fabian Cancellara by nearly three minutes in the overall standings.

Meanwhile in Brussels, Lance Armstrong will have the backing of France's Minister for Health and Sport, Roselyne Bachelot, until it has been proven that the American used banned products.

However, Bachelot said she expected USA federal officials, who are currently probing whether Armstrong's former team, US Postal, defrauded its sponsors by using performance-enhancing products, to take the investigation all the way.

Seven-time champion Armstrong is racing his final Tour de France campaign this month amid a series of damaging doping allegations from former teammate Floyd Landis.

Landis, a former member of US Postal, won the Tour in 2006 while riding for Phonak, only to be stripped of the title after testing positive for testosterone.

Having consistently claimed his innocence for years, the American — who no longer competes and is financially ruined — finally confessed to doping last month.

But in a bid to “clear his conscience”, he took his claims much further saying Armstrong and several other Americans, including George Hincapie, used banned doping products or methods while with US Postal.

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