By Chris Carmichael
Every day and every second counts during the Tour de France, and riders like Oscar Sevilla and Levi Leipheimer are bleeding. Following the team time trial, and with four stages remaining before the first individual time trial, both men have lost over 2 minutes to Lance. The time gap is by no means insurmountable, but I don’t remember the last time either man beat Lance by that much in an individual time trial.
Tour contenders can not afford to lose minutes (to each other) during the first week of the Tour. Losing time is easy and can happen anytime during any stage. Gaining time, on the other hand, is extremely difficult and costs a lot of energy.
CSC-Tiscali looked like they were going to win the stage, but a moment of indecision regarding Michael Sandstodt cost them dearly. Sandstodt is one of their strongest men on the flat and rolling stages, so it is understandable that they wanted to wait for him when he punctured. But the team slowed down, and then still continued without him. They lost a good rider and they lost time.
Laurent Jalabert and Tyler Hamilton lost less than a minute to Galdeano, Beloki and Armstrong, but CSC-Tiscali had been leading the stage at 40km. Their hesitation cost Jalabert and Hamilton a chance to take precious seconds from the other Tour favorites.
The Postal Service’s goal today was to ride a fast time trial without dropping any teammates. They wanted to spread the work among all nine men to conserve each man’s individual strength for the rest of the race. A dropped rider has to continue racing at full speed to make it to the finish inside the time cut.
Without the help of his teammates, that rider has to dig into energy reserves he will need in the mountains. Benoit Joachim is a strong rider for Lance on the flat and rolling stages of the Tour, but he was struggling today. Since Lance is going to need him at full power for the rest of this week, it was a wise decision not to leave him behind today.
Having nine men in the final 9 kilometers was beneficial for the Postal Service. ONCE slowed down as they approached the line, and losing two riders during the course of the stage may have contributed to that. They were still fast enough to win the stage, but the Postal Service reduced their deficit to ONCE from 38 seconds to just 16 over the last 9 km. Holding their speed also helped the Postal Service take 15 seconds out of CSC-Tiscali over the final portion of the stage.
George was about the only Postal Service rider disappointed today. He really wanted to win the team time trial. Lance and the rest of the team, including Johan Bruyneel are happy the stage went well. Little time was lost and there were no flats or crashes. Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief.