A change in the top order of general classification was expected after the time trial of stage four but many will be surprised to see the name of Stefan Schumacher at the top of the rankings. Not only did he obliterate the times of his rivals in the race against the clock, he muscled his way into overall lead of the Tour de France. Itâs his first victory in the Tour and the second for his Gerolsteiner team. He will turn 27 on 21 July and while a lot of pundit might suggest he wonât still be in yellow for the celebrations they should consider their forecasts for victory in the time trial around Cholet and question if the German was on that list. He leads Kim Kirchen and David Millar by 12 seconds and last yearâs overall runner-up Cadel Evans by 21 seconds. The race for overall honors has formally begun!
The 29.5km time trial that started and finished in Cholet began at 11.02am when the two-time âLanterne Rougeâ of the Tour de France, Wim Vansevenant (SIL) rolled out of the start house. The roads were dry at the start of the stage even though the conditions were overcast. Riders departed at two minute intervals throughout the day. There were 178 riders at the sign-on.
Christophe Riblon (A2R) set the early standard but his time was eclipsed by the Dutch time trial champion Stef Clement (BTL) who posted 37 minutes 18 seconds. This was the mark to beat and the first to go faster was the 2001 time trial world champion in the âespoirsâ category, Danny Pate (TSL). The American was fastest at 19.5km and 29.5km (with an average speed of 48.0km/h) until Sylvain Chavanel of the Cofidis team. The French time trial champion covered the first 19.5km at an average of 45.6km/h and then powered home with the wind at his back to set a time that was two seconds better than Chavanel.
Jens Voigt then bolted over the course to obliterate the previous best marks: 14â09â at 11km, 25â05â at 19.5km and 36â19â at the finish. Denis Menchov made up for the disappointment of losing time in stage three by beating Voigtâs mark by one second. And thatâs when the real race for stage honors began.
Schumacher Smashes Into The LeadâŚ
Before the start of the stage there was almost universal agreement that the course was perfect for a Fabian Cancellara win. The dual time trial world champion wasnât fastest at any check but he sprinted home to beat Menchovâs time by two seconds. It was an imposing ride but nothing like what was yet to come from the leader of the Gerolsteiner team Stefan Schumacher. Clocking the fastest time at each check â 13â54â at 11km, 24â42â at 19.5km and 35â44â at the finish â he beat Cancellaraâs time by 33â!
Schumacher has won 31 races during his seven year pro career including stage races (such as the Tour of Poland and Benelux Tour) and Classics (such as Amstel Gold) but this is the biggest time trial victory heâs achieved since turning pro in 2001.
Favorites Falter Slightly
Valverde failed to find the form he had in the time trials at the start of June when he won the Dauphine Libere title and finished 23rd in the stage, 1â34â behind Schumacher. Evans admitted at the start of the stage that he thought Cancellara would be unbeatable, but the Australian finished five seconds ahead of the Swiss CSC rider. Then came Millar and Kirchen, both putting in phenomenal performances but failing to eclipse the time set by Gerolsteinerâs captain who turns 27 on 21 July.
The stage winner has also inherited the overall lead after four stages of the Tour de France. Schumacher has a 12 second advantage over Kirchen and Millar and is 21â ahead of Evans. The former yellow jersey, Valverde slipped to 17th overall at 1â27â and Roman Feilluâs stint in yellow ended after 24 hours. He finished 169th in the stage, losing 4â59â to Schumacher and slipping down the rankings to 41st overall.
With 11th place in stage four, the former Swedish champion Thomas Lovkvist moved up the rankings from 38th to eighth. He also inherited the lead in the youth classification. But he insisted it could only happen if there wasnât a lot of shouting about his progressâŚ
âI had a 55x11 and with a bit of time to reflect, I think I should have had an even bigger gear because I was spinning out on the downhill. Maybe a 56 or 57 would have been good. Iâm not sure how fast I was going but I was pedaling at over 110 revs with my 55x11 so I guess it was pretty quick.
âI had hopes of taking the white jersey and it was in the back of my mind in the first few days. Iâm happy to have it now but I know there are strong guys close to me. Kreuziger did a really good time trial in the Tour de Suisse and I wasnât so sure about him. Also Andy Schleck can always surprise. I had two minutes to Feillu and normally you can do amazing things when you have the yellow jersey so I wasnât sure how it would go today.
âI wonât give the white jersey away but I think Andy could be the one to challenge; heâs a great climber and weâll see how well I go in the mountains. Thatâs where itâs going to be decided.
âBrian Holm was calling from the team car for me. I donât like when thereâs too much talk on the radio or any meaningless shouting on the radio and I told him Iâd stop pedaling if they do that. So it was just concrete information like, âYouâve got this time and youâre this much behind so and soâŚâ it was just encouraging, slow talk. Thatâs the way I want it and I have to thank Brian because he did a good job.â
Kim Kirchen has been Mr Consistent in the early phase of the 95th Tour de France. He has finished fourth, second, eleventh and second in the stages thus far. So whatâs his formula for such success? âKeep calm.â The results, it seem, follow from that simple premise.
âI donât think Iâm getting stronger, rather Iâm just maintaining my rhythm and keep calm in my head and, together with my good form, it is all coming together well. Iâm a little bit surprised about this time trial. I have never concentrated on the Tour as much as I have this year. My preparation has gone well. I didnât get sick. I had a great Tour de Suisse and now I think I have to keep on going to hold this form. Weâre going to see what happens in the coming days.
âI hadnât thought too much about the general classification before today because I was still two minutes behind and itâs very hard to get back this time. And, actually, the time trial was pretty hard and Iâm just pleased to have done well and put myself in the position Iâm now in.â
The 13th German to wear the yellow jersey achieved that coup by surprising even himself. Stefan Schumacher thought he might make it into the top five in the time trial for stage four; he did a lot more than that!
âI was feeling motivated and I was also confident on the circuit because I knew that it was good for me on a time trial thatâs about 30 kilometers long. The course was up and down with the wind blowing strongly, itâs the sort of race that suits my strengths. You always have to push over the top of the short climbs and itâs a good case for me. I thought Iâd get into the first five in the stage but I was not so sure about taking the win. I thought Cancellara was the big favorite but now I feel incredible.
âI donât have a plan for what weâll do now. I didnât really expect to take the win and to do that and also get the yellow jersey is something that I hadnât thought too much about. Iâll try to do the best tomorrow. With the team we have, thereâs a good chance to defend the jersey at least for a few days and after that weâll just have to wait and see. It will be hard to keep it because Kim Kirchen is not far behind and heâs a really good climber but weâll just have to see how the next few days go.â
Roman Feillu has enjoyed the experience of wearing the yellow jersey but it didn’t give him any wings. He finished the stage in 169th place, 4’59" behind Schumacher. He will drop right down the rankings and Schumacher will move right up to first overall.
Roman Feillu admitted that he would lose time in today’s stage but he held some hope that he would be able to retain the yellow jersey. That’s not going to happen: he has had his day in the limelight but as he passes the 19.5km check 3’17" behind the time of Schumacher it’s almost over.
There are still four riders to finish the stage but Schumacher will win the stage and take the yellow jersey. It is the second victory in the Tour de France for his Gerolsteiner team and his first.
The average speed for the stage was 49.5km/h.
The only rider who could have challenged Schumacher for the yellow jersey was Kim Kirchen. The rider in the green jersey finished 18" behind the German (in second for the day with only four more riders to finish) which means that it’s now only a matter of waiting for the final riders before Schumacher is confirmed as the new leader of the Tour de France.