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Armstrong in yellow after Discovery powers through TTT

The fourth day of the 92nd Tour de France was one of exultation for Lance Armstrong and one of heartbreak for fellow American Dave Zabriskie. The 67.5km team time trial provided another trademark Armstrong moment as he surged into the maillot jaune with panache after his Discovery Channel team won the stage from Tours to Blois in record speed. “It’s always good to have the jersey,” said Armstrong, who led his team across the line with an emphatic bike stab. “It feels nice to win.” For Zabriskie, his dream run in yellow ended in nightmarish fashion. The 26-year-old crashed just 1.5km short

Zabriskie crashes in final stretch as CSC takes second

By Andrew Hood

A heart-breaking end to a great run in yellow.

A heart-breaking end to a great run in yellow.

Photo: Graham Watson

Discovery charges to the stage win and another yellow jersey for Armstrong

Discovery charges to the stage win and another yellow jersey for Armstrong

Photo: AFP

The fourth day of the 92nd Tour de France was one of exultation for Lance Armstrong and one of heartbreak for fellow American Dave Zabriskie.

The 67.5km team time trial provided another trademark Armstrong moment as he surged into the maillot jaune with panache after his Discovery Channel team won the stage from Tours to Blois in record speed. “It’s always good to have the jersey,” said Armstrong, who led his team across the line with an emphatic bike stab. “It feels nice to win.”

For Zabriskie, his dream run in yellow ended in nightmarish fashion. The 26-year-old crashed just 1.5km short of the line, falling hard on his left side after his front wheel slipped out from beneath him. He rolled across the line on a replacement bike 1:28 behind than his CSC teammates, his dreams as bloodied and torn as his yellow jersey.

“I can’t begin to describe my emotions right now,” said CSC team manager Bjarne Riis, who’d seen his team lose by two seconds to Discovery after leading at every time check along the way. “We just can’t seem to get the luck that Lance Armstrong seems to have.”

Pushed by strong tail winds, Armstrong’s squad set a record TTT speed of 57.326 kph to score its third Tour TTT win in three years, and the six-time champion emerged with the 67th yellow jersey of his career. Meanwhile, Tour rookie Zabriskie was taken to a local hospital for X-rays to check for possible broken ribs.

Discovery rides the wind
Strong, gusting winds blew up the Loire Valley on Tuesday afternoon pushing the teams at record speeds along the flat, opening 42km of the course. After turning left across a bridge at Chaumont-sur-Loire, the course dove up and down over a string of low hills for the decisive final one-third of the race.

Discovery Channel had the unfamiliar position of not starting last, an honor that went to a super-motivated Team CSC. With Zabriskie in yellow and the proud Riis hunting for the prestigious team time trial victory, Armstrong knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

Missing were 2000 Olympic time trial champion Viatcheslav Ekimov and Floyd Landis (Ekimov was out with injury and Landis was driving Phonak to a fifth-place finish). In their places were Yaroslav Popovych, the promising young Ukraine rider who’s being groomed as a future team leader, and Paolo Savoldelli, the two-time Giro d’Italia champion.Results are posted.

“We had Popovych in Eki’s spot and Savoldelli for Landis,” explained Armstrong. “We missed Eki. We should dedicate this victory to him. He loves this event. He’s the strongest, he’s the steadiest. With those changes, we had the same rotation as last year.”

As they’ve done in the previous two Tours, Discovery Channel started slow, posting only the third-fastest time at the 25km time check in front of huge crowds in ancient Amboise.

T-Mobile takes third

T-Mobile takes third

Photo: Graham Watson

In contrast, CSC powered out of the gates early, putting Bobby Julich, Jens Voigt and Luke Roberts at the front to take powerful turns. At this first split, CSC stopped the clock at 25:36, with the surprising Liberty Seguros only six seconds slower with T-Mobile and Discovery Channel tied in third 15 seconds slower.

“It was a very strong ride for us. We can’t be any happier,” said Jan Ullrich after T-Mobile finished third 35 seconds slower. “We did all we could. We were hoping for the top five, so this is a good sign.”

Team CSC kept charging hard, not panicking as the gap to Discovery Channel shrunk to six seconds at 46km just after pushing north over the Loire and catching some crosswinds. T-Mobile was still holding tough, seven seconds slower, while Liberty was 20 seconds off the pace.

“We went really hard,” said Discovery’s George Hincapie. “We were flying, going over 60 kph in the last part. The last section was really dangerous, with lots of curves and hills.”

Discovery Channel went cleanly through a tight, dangerous descent in the final 3km and roared across the line to stop the clock in 1:10:39 to set the fastest TTT time in Tour history. All nine riders finished together.

With CSC still out on the road, Armstrong’s men climbed inside the Discovery Channel bus. TV reception was sketchy and Armstrong said he wasn’t sure what happened when Zabriskie crashed. What soon became evident was that they’d won by two seconds.

Armstrong’s teammates jumped up and down and hugged each other. Discovery Channel was back on top.

“It was stressful (not starting last) because we have to wait five minutes before you get the split times,” he said. “It took everything we had to catch up with them.”

Armstrong was back in the jersey. No one dared asked the Tour boss if he got lucky when Zabriskie crashed, something that Team CSC says cost them the win.

“It’s unfortunate what happened to Dave,” said Armstrong. “I wish I could comment more, but it was hard to see what happened. The team time trial event is so hard, everyone is always a little cross-eyed at the end He’ a great young rider who will probably be in the yellow jersey again someday.”

CSC’s dreams come crashing down
The 2005 Tour had been unfolding like a dream for Team CSC. Zabriskie pulled off a huge victory in the opening time trial to give Riis his first yellow jersey as a team manager (in fact, his first since winning the Tour in 1996).

The team was confident it could hold off Discovery Channel in the team time trial, a discipline that Riis puts his boys through intense practice sessions during team training camps in January and February.

To make sure, the CSC riders reviewed the final 30km of the course on the Wednesday before the Tour start and even put a CSC team car behind the Discovery Channel riders to get their own time splits along the way.

“It was a great ride for us today,” said CSC’s Jens Voigt. “We really wanted to win. Bobby and I know what it’s like to win this stage because we won with Crédit Agricole [in 2001]. The whole team was motivated.”

Voigt, Julich and ex-trackie Roberts were taking huge pulls, setting a strong pace that kept Zabriskie safely in the yellow jersey. As Discovery Channel trimmed their lead, the team drove harder.

CSC roared down the final, twisting descent into Blois through a series of sharp S-turns but the team split coming through the final corner. A small gap of perhaps 15 feet opened between the leading riders and Zabriskie, Roberts and Ivan Basso.

Zabriskie stood out of the saddle and glanced over his right shoulder. And then disaster struck. His front wheel slipped out and the yellow jersey went careening to the asphalt.

The actual caused of his crash wasn’t certain. The roads were dry and it appears Zabriskie didn’t puncture, and Roberts said Zabriskie didn’t clip a wheel. “I’m not sure what happened, whether his chain jumped or his foot slipped. We were accelerating after coming through the corner and maybe it threw him off-balance,” Roberts said. “It’s just bad luck for Dave. It’s an awful situation for him.”

Zabriskie fell hard on his left side, narrowly missing the fenced barriers and a French policeman standing just inside the course, who was forced to jump out of the way when Zabriskie’s red bike went clanging past.

Roberts and Basso narrowly avoided crashing into either Zabriskie or his bike. The two frantically chased back on.“It was a miracle that Luke and I didn’t crash into Dave’s bike,” Basso said. “We have to accept what happened and it’s too bad for Dave. Now I am 1:26 down on Armstrong, but this Tour doesn’t start for me until the Alps.”

Zabriskie got a bike change and rode alone across the line, his yellow jersey ripped and torn with blood on his elbow, shoulders, hip and knee. Team doctors gave Zabriskie two stitches inside the team bus. Subsequent X-rays showed no broken bones.

Later, the young American said, “I’m not happy with what happened but that’s life. I’m extremely disappointed because we were very, very close to winning the stage and I was close to keeping the yellow jersey.”

Riis said, “I don’t know how it happened. We had six seconds on Discovery with two kilometers to go. The others waited to see what would happen and I yelled at them to keep going to the finish as fast as they can, not to wait. If Dave hadn’t crashed, we could have won the stage.”

How it all shakes out
The controversial timing rules introduced last year helped every other squad with the lone exception of CSC, which finished just two seconds slower than Discovery Channel. T-Mobile was third at 35 seconds, but under the rules, lost only 30 seconds. Liberty Seguros was fourth 53 seconds slower, but lost 40 seconds instead.

Liberty rode like the ONCE team of old

Liberty rode like the ONCE team of old

Photo: Graham Watson

“We made a good time trial in conditions that weren’t favorable for us,” said Liberty Seguros sport director Manolo Saiz. “We couldn’t go as fast in the first part because we didn’t want to lose any of the climbers. I believe we’ve made an extraordinary race and we’ve kept Roberto Heras in good position. Now we wait for the mountains.”

Phonak team boss Juan Fernandez said they were satisfied with fifth place. “We were hoping to be in the top five, so we’re right there,” he said. “We only had five riders coming through together, so perhaps we lost a little in the final section, but we were realistic before starting.”

Over at Gerolsteiner, big Michael Rich was the man who did a lot of the heavy lifting for the German water boys. “We drove hard across the flat sections, but maybe it was too hard for some of the younger guys,” said Rich after his team finished eighth. “We did better than last year, when we were 16th, so eighth is a good result for us. We didn’t bring the same team here as we did when we won [the UCI ProTour TTT] in Eindhoven.”With the win, Armstrong regains his familiar position in the yellow jersey. Even at the post-race press conference, team boss Johan Bruyneel hinted the team might be willing to play hot-potato with the jersey, perhaps putting second-place George Hincapie into some breaks to see if they stick.

The guys from Gerolsteiner did better than last year, but...

The guys from Gerolsteiner did better than last year, but…

Photo: Graham Watson

Armstrong said he expects a few days in the yellow jersey. With a string of relatively flat stages on the offing before hitting the Vosges later this week, Armstrong said he expects Quick Step to control the pace to set up star sprinter Tom Boonen, who’s already won two stages.“Boonen is clearly the fastest and he’s ambitious, he might be able to win five or six stages,” he said. “So maybe we can get some help from QuickStep.”A new Mark
The victory set the record for the fastest average stage speed, which was previously recorded at 55.152kph by Briton Chris Boardman in the 1994 prologue, but over the much shorter distance of 7.2km.Armstrong’s teammates also smashed the highest previous average speed for a Tour de France team time trial of 54.93 kph, clocked by Italian crew Gewiss-Ballan over the same distance in 1995.The fastest Tour road stage, excluding time trials, also ended in Blois and was won by Italian Mario Cipollini in 1999 at an average of 50.355kph.

Photo: Graham Watson

Results – Stage 4 – Team Time Trial
1. Discovery Channel Team67.5km in 1:10:39 (57.324kph)
2. Team CSC, 00:02
3. T-Mobile Team, 00:35
4. Liberty Seguros – Wurth Team, 00:53
5. Phonak Hearing Systems, 01:31
6. Credit Agricole, 01:41
7. Illes Balears-Caisse D Epargne, 02:05
8. Gerolsteiner, 02:05
9. Fassa Bortolo, 02:19
10. Liquigas – Bianchi, 02:26
Results are posted.

Overall standings
1. Lance Armstrong (USA), Discovery Channel
2. George Hincapie (USA), Discovery Channel, 00:55
3. Jens Voigt (G), CSC, 01:04
4. Bobby Julich (USA), CSC, 01:07
5. Rubiera Jose Luis (Sp), Discovery Channel, 01:14
6. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr), Discovery Channel, 01:16
7. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz), T-Mobile, 01:21
8. Benjamin Noval Gonzalez (Sp), Discovery Channel, 01:26
9. David Zabriskie (USA), CSC, 01:26
10. Ivan Basso (I), CSC, 01:26
Results are posted.


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