What's Cool In Road Cycling

Tour Pass: TTT Notebook

There won’t be much sleeping in Spain tonight – the party starts now. For the second time in three years, Spain’s powerful ONCE team won the Team Time Trial stage of the Tour de France, taking today’s 67.5-kilometer fourth stage from Epernay to Chateau-Thierry in impressive fashion, despite a huge rally by the USPS team in the final seven kilometers. ONCE topped the USPS by 16 seconds and CSC-Tiscali by 46 seconds. The stage victory put Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano in yellow, snapping a six-year drought by the Spanish. The last Spanish rider to wear yellow was the great Miguel Indurain following his victory in the prologue of the 1996 Tour. The USPS’ Lance Armstrong moved from fifth to third in the overall GC and trails Galdeano by seven seconds.

* ONCE had the second best time check at the first two marks – at 21.5 kms and 40.5 kms – before overtaking CSC at the third time check at 60 kms. The USPS team, riding in a solid formation and even hitting 70 kph at one point, rode smooth throughout. Although slightly disappointed with their time split through the first 21.5 kms – 14 seconds back of ONCE and 20 back of CSC – the team rallied toward the later part of the stage. Following the second time check, the race turned into the predictable ONCE vs. USPS show, when the USPS turned away early leader CSC, making up 34 seconds from the second to third time check. With 7.5 kms remaining, the boys in blue only trailed ONCE by 38 seconds. With a final, huge effort by Viatcheslav Ekimov, USPS closed the final gap to just 16 seconds – making up 22 seconds in the final 7.5 kms. Ekimov then fell off the pace and rolled to the line nine seconds back of his teammates.

* After the stage, Armstrong said that all in all, he was satisfied with the team’s effort, compared to the other race favorites. He commented on how hard the course was and said that since the team had no major problems – no crashes, no major accidents – the effort was good enough. “It was fluid and consistent and I’m content with the team’s effort,” he said. “It was a contrast to last year when the team suffered a fall in the wet conditions.”

* As is the case following a Team Time Trial, the overall GC was turned on its head. Gone is Telekom’s Erik Zabel, now back in his more comfortable Green Jersey, while the first 14 riders are either from USPS or ONCE. In fact, eight of the USPS’ nine riders are in the top 20. For example, Benoit Joachim jumped from 115th place to 20th and Pavel Padrnos moved from 93rd to 18th – all while gaining just 10 seconds on GC.

* The TTT stage is easily the most nerve-wracking stage of the Tour, with so much at stake in several areas. The specially equipped time trial bikes are the most specific and technologically advanced equipment of any cycling team. The mechanics spent most of last night making sure each bike was to the rider’s liking. Plus, riding in formation for the entire stage and receiving the time of the fifth rider across the line obviously applies pressure on all nine guys. Preparing for a TTT, all nine riders warm up together, making for an impressive scene – but a tense one. The crowds around the bus were huge at the start, all staring silently at the nine riders mashing away on the trainers.

* The 21 teams began in descending order – each separated by five minutes – of the overall team general classification rankings after three stages. Credit Agricole, last year’s Team Time Trial stage winner, but this year’s most unlucky team so far, went first at 2:15 p.m. local time. The USPS team went third-to-last, at 3:45 p.m.. CSC-Tiscali, leaders in the team GC, went off last at 3:55 p.m.

* Despite leading through the first two time checks, CSC-Tiscali was forced to settle for third place overall, 46 seconds back of ONCE and 16 seconds back of USPS. After setting the best time check at the 21.5-km mark (by six seconds over ONCE), the team quickly dropped to eight riders, losing Arvis Piziks. At the 40.5-km mark, the team maintained its six-second lead over ONCE and had 19 seconds on USPS. However, at the 60-km mark, Danish champion Michael Sandstod punctured and the team temporally slowed for their teammate, but then decided to keeping going with eight riders.

* Lampre, the team of the former Yellow Jersey, finished with the minimum number of riders – five – losing four along the way. Their overall time was 1:22:11, leaving them in 11th place in the stage. Four other teams – Kelme, Fassa Bortolo, Alessio and Tacconi Sport – each lost three riders.

* Asked about the TTT, Rabobank team leader and former USPS rider, Levi Leipheimer, told the International Herald Tribune, “I think we are going to do better than people expect. I think we have the possibility to win, actually.” The orange and blue clad Rabo boys finished in eighth place overall, 2:16 back of ONCE.

* Nothing much changes in French cycling – it’s the Jalabert and Virenque show, all day, all the time. The huge crowds at each stage cheer scream out “Richard – Richard” and “Laurent – Laurent” yet hardly make a peep for the other 39 French riders in the race.

1. ONCE; 67.5 kms in 1:19:49
2. U.S. Postal Service; at :16
3. CSC-Tiscali; at :46
4. Fassa Bortolo; at 1:30
5. Cofidis; at 1:44

1. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, ONCE; 14:51:50
2. Joseba Beloki, ONCE; at :04
3. Lance Armstrong, U.S. Postal Service; at :07
4. Jorg Jaksche, ONCE; at :12
5. Abraham Olano, ONCE; at :22
6. Roberto Heras, U.S. Postal Service; at :25
9. George Hincapie, U.S. Postal Service; at :28
11. Floyd Landis, U.S. Postal Service; at :32
13. Jose Luis Rubiera, U.S. Postal Service; at :35
14. Viatcheslav Ekimov, U.S. Postal Service; at :35
18. Pavel Padrnos, U.S. Postal Service, at :55
20. Benoit Joachim, U.S. Postal Service; at 1:09
116. Victor Hugo Pena, U.S. Postal Service; at 5:03

— Dan Osipow, from Chateau-Thierry, France

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