Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Tour 2009: Team Time Trial Returns!
Stage 4 of the Tour de France is in the books, and what an exciting day it was out on the course. Stage 4 was a team time trial, which hasn't been held in the Tour for three years, and it put all the riders out on the course riding as a unit for a change and not as individuals.
When the day started, all eyes were on Lance Armstrong and Team Astana. Yesterday, seven-time Tour winner Armstrong showed his experience and savvy recognizing a break opportunity in the nasty crosswinds that plagued the course, and sticking with the lead riders, he made up valuable time on other race contenders, most of whom failed to see the break coming. As a result, Lance moved up to third place overall in the General Classification, and had the chance to end the day today in Yellow, thanks to powerhouse Astana being the favorite in team time trial.
To claim the Yellow Jersey, Astana would need to make up 40 seconds on Team Saxo Bank, whose Fabian Cancellara has held on to the lead since a blistering individual time trial back in the Prologue on Saturday. Astana was the last team out o the road today, and they did indeed attack and attack hard, winning the time trial in impressive fashion and almost making up that 40 seconds. But at the end of the day, Cancellara stayed in Yellow by the smallest of margins, just a fraction of a second in front of Lance. In fact, it is so close, that the leaderboard currently has Cancellara in first with Lance listed as "0 seconds" back.
Pre-race favorite Alberto Contador, who is a teammate of Armstrong on Astana is now in third, just 19 seconds behind. Fourth and fifth places also belong to Astana, with Andres Kloden and Levi Leipheimer in fourth and fifth respectively. Those standings are a clear indicator of who has the strongest team in this year's Tour.
My guess is that Cancellara, barring any unforeseen accidents, will remain in Yellow now until Friday, the first mountain stage. The Saxo Bank rider is an amazing time trialist and quite fast on the open road, but he is no climber, and will likely fade in tye Pyrenees. Will Lance be there to claim the Jersey? We'll have to wait and see. And what about Contador? How does he feel about his teammate stealing the spotlight? Hopefully team dynamic stays in place, but there are some big egos around the Astana training table each night.