Lance Armstrong almost ended the day with another yellow jersey. Were it not for a fraction of a second, the American would be the leader of the Tour de France. Instead he has to be content with a stage victory â Astanaâs first in the race â and the knowledge that he came oh-so close to taking the overall lead from Fabian Cancellara. Lance had to make up 40â to take the jersey off the Swiss from Saxo Bank and, at the 30.5km mark, he was 41â ahead. But by the finish, the team of Armstrong and Contador was 18â better than its nearest rival, Garmin-Slipsteam and 40â better than Cancellaraâs Saxo Bank squad.
The Progress Report
The first team to start the team time trial was Caisse dâEpargne. They survived the course without crashing and posted times at the first and second check that were not beaten until the 14th team to start, Liquigas beat them by eight seconds. Katusha, however, eclipsed the Spanish team in the third check and at the finish setting the early standard with 47â52â.
Rabobank was the first team to demonstrate the complicated nature of the early part of the route: Denis Menchov crashed on a left turn at around the one kilometer mark. He quickly remounted and rejoined his team-mates. Alessandro Ballan also fell on the same turn but also wasted no time in getting back on his bike.
There were several other accidents throughout the day, including one involving four riders from the BBox Bouygues Telecom team, including Bonnet, Arashiro and Rolland. Van den Broek (SIL) crashed in the first two kilometers and never rejoined his team-mates which had already lost 48â to Caisse dâEpargne at the 10km mark.
Garmin and Astana were seven seconds slower than Caisse dâEpargne at the 10km mark but both set the fastest times as they passed the 19.5km and 30.5km checks. The American team had five riders for most of the stage â Wiggins, Vande Velde, Millar, Zabriskie and Hesjedal â but they finished the course at an average of 50km/h and set the fastest time of the day, beating Liquigas by 40â. But then came AstanaâŠ!
The team of Armstrong and Contador was equal with Garmin at the 10km mark and 12â ahead of Saxo Bank. Then Astana took the best time at 19.5km and the yellow jersey appeared under threat: the 40â deficit that Armstrong began the day with was down to 2â â as Saxo Bank was at 38â. At the 30.5km mark, Armstrong became the virtual leader by one second (beating Saxo Bank by 41â) but at the finish is was exactly 40â between the winning team and that of the reigning yellow jersey.
Cancellara Keeps the Yellow Jersey
Armstrong will have to wait another day at least if he wants an 84th yellow jersey. Cancellara maintains his lead by a fraction of a second but the Astana team does get to celebrate its first stage win in the Tour de France.
The winner of the time trial in Monaco has managed to defend his advantage in the general classificationâŠ but only just. Fabian Cancellara continues to wear the yellow jersey despite a challenge from Lance Armstrong in Montpellier.
âWe have done the maximum today. After this effort we really can be proud that weâve managed to keep the yellow jerseyâŠ at least for one more day. This is a good example of âSwiss Timingâ. Now I do not know if we will continue to defend; tomorrow we do not know how the stage will be raced. Do we police the escape or not? The most important thing was the reach today with the yellow jersey. We can already start to think about the mountains and now that will be the focus of the teamâs strategy.â
The Columbia-HTC squad is a well-drilled unit that knows how to win but in the team time trial, it finished fifth. Could it be that they paid the price for their effort at the end of stage three? âNo!â barked an adamant Mark Cavendish who is still in greenâŠ
âThe middle bit of the courseâŠ you could probably do that faster on a road bike. Youâve just got keep the team as close together as possible. So much of the media donât know what team time trialling is about. Youâve got to ride one to know what itâs like. I was getting questions like, âAre you going to struggle?â For me, a sprinter is going to do better in a team time trialâŠ
âThe radio stopped working after about two kilometers so we were on our own. But weâre a pretty drilled team. We look after each other really well. And itâs about looking after each other. Itâs not an individual, itâs a team of nine. And whoever gets the best out of everyone, gets the best result. We gave one hundred per cent. We didnât win but we have to be happy.â
Less than a second separates the seven-time champion from the yellow jersey in his Tour de France comeback. Lance Armstrong was part of a dominant team of champions in stage four; Astanaâs nine â Armstrong, Contador, Kloden, Leipheimer, Muravyev, Paulinho, Popovych, Rast, Zubeldia â all put in a stunning performance to claim first in the team time trial. Lance didnât shy away from the media after the stage either, answering questions in French and English and posing for photos with friend and Tour guest Ben StillerâŠ
âI wanted to be one of the strongest in the race. I think that I am. I may not be strong enough to win but I think somebody on this team will win. I know the race and I understand what itâs all about. Yesterday we saw a critical point in the race. Itâs the Tour and I know the Tour; I know how to race it and how to be in the pelotonâŠ so sometimes it pays to be old and experienced and not young and strong. Weâll see what happens from here but Iâll take it day by day.
âI donât think itâs worth trying something in the next day or so. There are no time bonuses and, of course, itâs still going to be windy. Itâs a tricky stage around Perpignan and that region so weâre going to have to be careful and pay attention. You never know whatâs going to happen. But I donât think the jersey changes hands until Andorra.
âDuring the race I started to think we might be able to take [the yellow jersey] and I thought, âThatâs kinda cool. Itâs a good storyâŠâ but we did what we could. What else are you going to do? [Saxo Bank] came back a little bit at the end and rode strong. Thatâs cycling. Itâs what happens. I think we finished the race knowing we can look at each other and say, âWe did our best!â They deserve to keep it.
âThe most important thing is that we won the stage, and we put time into our main rivals. Before the start, I told Alberto, âListen, it doesnât matter if we win but itâs important that we take minutes out of guys like Evans and Sastre and Menchov.â I think we were fairly successful when it came to doing that. The team time counts for individual time and I wouldnât want to be two minutes behind right now.â
The comeback is more complete now. The Boss is back; Lance and his team have won the fourth stage but Cancellara will hold onto the yellow jersey by a fraction of a second. The top five in stage four is:
1. Astana - 39km in 46’29.320
2. Garmin-Slipstream - at 18"
3. Saxo Bank - at 40"
4. Liquigas - at 58"
5. Team Columbia-HTC - at 59"
The provisional results indicate that Fabian Cancellara will keep his yellow jersey by a fraction of a second. This is judged on a count-back from the results of the opening time trial.
The Astana team is 40" ahead of Saxo Bank. That’s the time that Armstrong had to make up to take the yellow jersey. We await confirmation on who is in the yellow jersey but whoever it is, it’s going to be a fraction of a second...
The Astana team has won the fourth stage. This is a double triumph as Lance is about to receive his 84th yellow jersey in the Tour de France.
It seems certain that Astana will win the stage. They have to be faster than 46’47" set by Garmind and in the final kilometer it’s all going to plan.