Hello and welcome to Stage 4 of the 92nd Tour de France!
Stage 4: Tours-Blois, 67.5 km - Team Time Trial
Today the riders head out on the all-important Team Bonus
Sprint, er, um, I mean the Team Time Trial. The course is a 67.5km roll
between Tours and Blois. It's flat for the first 42.5km, but then it starts to
get a bit bumpy. That will really make this course a challenge.
Team Starting Order (at five minute intervals)
Euskaltel-Euskadi (ESP - EUS)
Lampre-Caffita (ITA - LAM)
AG2R Preyovance (FRA - A2R)
Saunier Duval-Prodir (ESP - SDV)
Cofidis (FRA - COF)
Davitamon-Lotto (BEL - DVL)
Liquigas-Bianchi (ITA - LIQ)
Bouyges Telecom (FRA - BTL)
Francaise des Jeux (FRA - FDJ)
Domina Vacanze (ITA - DOM)
Quickstep-Innergetic (BEL - QST)
Rabobank (NED - RAB)
Illes Balears-Caisse d’Espagne (ESP - IBA)
Credit Agricole (FRA - C.A)
Liberty Seguros-Wurth (ESP - LWT)
Fassa Bortolo (ITA - FAS)
T-Mobile (GER - TMO)
Gerolsteiner (GER - GST)
Phonak Hearing Systems (SUI - PHO)
Discovery Channel (USA - DSC)
Team CSC (DEN - CSC)
The Francaise des Jeux boys roll out and quickly get into formation. They have some very strong men, and should be in the top third today.
The Orangemen of Euskaltel-Euskadi were the first on the road today by virtue of their collective horrible showing in the opening time trial and their poor performance since. They are ahead of Lampre by 17" at the first time check. In fact, with the first four teams through the first check now, the Euskadis have the best time. Saunier Duval-Prodir are worst at 53", not good for American strongman Chris Horner.
The Euskaltel boys are going through the 2nd time check with all nine men still in the line. They look a little ragged heading through a corner, but they are putting up a good time so far.
So let's review the rules of this neutered TTT format: each team heads out onto the course and rides as a group. They must try to keep at least five men together in the group until the finish, as the group will get the time of the fifth man across the line. If a rider gets dropped by his team along the way, he gets his own time.
How the race is not a real time trial is this: there is a maximum time loss based on the relative ranking of the team at the end of the day. For example, the maximum time loss for the 2nd place team is 20", the max time loss for the 3rd place team is 30", for the 4th place team is 40", etc. If the team gets a time that is within the maximum time loss for their place, then they get their "real" time.
The reason for this rule is basically to keep the stronger teams like Discovery, CSC, and Phonak from running off and taking huge time chunks from the not-so-fast teams.
Of course, given the new ProTour format, one has to wonder about this... isn't every team supposed to have a minimum budget and bring a certain number of their best riders? Okay, whatever... I'll stop complaining and give you some more times.
Some humor now: the official time check machinery is on the fritz: it just switched the "official" time of Euskaltel-Euskadi to 14h 20' 00" at the 25km point. I don't think the Orangmen are going to do that well at the end of the day, but I think they'll cover the course in a time that's a bit under 14 hours.
Having said that, the Euskaltel men seem to still be going fairly fast, probably fastest of the first several teams to hit the road.
Of course today's TTT is a beautiful spectacle, with the riders all tricked out in their time trial kits and riding in formation. The Credit Agricole men, led by Estonian time trial champion Jaan Kirsipuu and Norwegian time trial champion Thor Hushovd, hit the road now. They are a dark horse for a top three finish on this stage. In the past this team has won this event, but they don't have many of the men from that team any more (most significantly, Stuart O'Grady is now on Cofidis).
Erik Dekker sits at the back of the ragged Rabobank train in his Polka Dot Jersey, wearing the red number of the most aggressive rider for his attacking during the stage yesterday.
Last out of the gate today will be the CSC men with their Yellow Jersey wonder David "Friskie" Zabriskie. The American said yesterday that he likes their chances to win this stage, as they have some real motors: Zabriskie, Basso, Voigt, and Julich are all outstanding time trialists.
Liberty Seguros-Wurth hits the road now. Manager Manolo Saiz is optimistic about his team's chances today; remember that the team formerly known as ONCE used to be the dominant team in the peloton for this event. However, that team is not what it once was, and I doubt they'll be able to hang with teams like Discovery and CSC.
Davitamon-Lotto is coming through the 2nd time check. The best time is held by Euskaltel, but now the Davitamon boys beat them by 45"! That's a great ride by the men who are trying to set up their GC man Cadel Evans.
At the finish, 1h 14' 38" is the time set by the Euskaltel boys. They are the first to finish, but their times have been relatively fast so far.
Fassa Bortolo, led by Swiss time trial champion Fabian Cancellara, set out into their tight silver formation. They are also a team of incredibly strong riders who could pull off a surprise, especially since they haven't been burning up their legs trying to set up Petacchi in the sprints this year. They've been able to save their bullets with Petacchi watching the race on the TV from Italy.
At the 2nd time check at 45.8km, Davitamon-Lotto set the best time at 48' 41". Euskaltel-Euskadi is 2nd at 45", Lampre-Caffita is 3rd at 1' 17", Cofidis is 4th at 1' 23", and Saunier Duval-Prodir is sucking the hind teat at 2' 01".
Hmmm... the Liquigas team now sets the best time by 18" at the first time check (at 25km) with a time of 26' 13". Interesting. But teams like T-Mobile are on the course now, and they will demolish that time.
There seems to be a headwind on much of the course today, and that will really help spread out the times a bit. The weather is overcast and fairly mild, but the wind is definitely a factor.
Gerolsteiner is on the start podium. Levi Leipheimer has high hopes, and for sure they have some great time trialists: Leipheimer, Totschnig, Rich, and Scholz are all very strong.
AG2r-Prevoyance come across in 1h 16' 02", which is pretty bad. But they aren't exactly chasing the Yellow Jersey in this race: they are going to use the big time loss as a tactical advantage now, as they can attack for stage wins and be given more leeway.
Gerolsteiner is now on the course, with Michael Rich sporting the jersey of the German time trial champion.
Liquigas-Bianchi has just set the best time at the 2nd time check: they went through the 45.8km point at 48' 20", which is 21" up on Davitamon-Lotto.
Phonak now hits the course. With Santi Botero, Robbie Hunter, Floyd Landis, and Oscar Pereiro, they are a hot favorite for the win. But as the Phonaks roll out onto the course, the big favorites of this discipline, Discovery Channel, pull up onto the start ramp.
Chris Horner, looking solid and powerful in his time trial tuck, leads a very ragged-looking group of Saunier-Duval riders across the line. They are 3rd best (or 2nd worst) at the line, 1' 07" behind Euskaltel-Euskadi.
Credit Agricole now sets the best time at the 25km point, putting 4" into the Liquigas-Bianchi boys. Meanwhile, "El Jefe" Armstrong and his mighty blue men are rolling out onto the course. With mega-motors like Hincapie, Armstrong, Azevedo, Savoldelli, and Popovych, they will be hard to beat. They've spanked the field in this discipline the past two years.
Cofidis finishes with only five men, coming across in 3rd at the end. They looked horrible.
By contrast, the Credit Agricole train looks very tight and disciplined out on the course. They have the full nine men still. Well now, Liberty Seguros has come good and set the best time at the 25km check, putting 27" into Credit Agricole! They must be letting Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano do long pulls while mini-me Roberto Heras does short pulls.
Davitamon-Lotto is chasing two dropped Cofidis men down the home stretch. They put in a time of 1h 13' 11", best time so far. That will be good for Evans.
The Discovery train is in very tight, single-file formation with the Big Hink, George Hincapie, leading the way. Behind, the CSC men roll out... all teams are now either finished or on the road. Julich goes to the front and takes the first long pull to get the rhythm going.
So at the finish line (67.5km), with five teams across, the Davitamon-Lotto squad has a 1' 27" lead over Euskaltel-Euskadi. But several teams are now smashing the time of Davitamon behind.
Liquigas-Bianchi comes into the finish... they are in a 1h 13' 05", which is 6" up on Davitamon-Lotto. Well, they faded on the last section of the course just a bit. T-Mobile's tight single-file formation is rolling along, soon to reach the 25km checkpoint. Behind, Manuel Beltran stuggles along at the back of the Discovery train. Now he settles in, and they look to be smooth with no problems.
But are they going fast? We'll see.
T-Mobile is only 2nd at 25km, 9" behind Liberty Seguros-Wurth. That is very interesting. Maybe T-Mobile will accelerate on the later section of the course?
So with only four teams still to come by, Liberty Seguros has the best time at 25km. We'll see if Gerolsteiner, Phonak, Discovery, or CSC beat that time. I suspect at least a couple of them will.
El Jefe Armstrong drives the Discovery train, Noval is 2nd wheel... he is now pulling through, Noval, looking much much stronger than last year when he was dropped early on. He finished in tears, riding alone, thinking he'd been eliminated from the race.
Gerolsteiner is only 8th fastest, 52" behind Liberty at the 25km checkpoint. They'd better pick it up.
Francaise des Jeux is really not having a good day. McGee leads them home in 1h 15' 55", well down, near the bottom of the standings.
At the 25km checkpoint, here is the current pecking order:
1) Liberty Seguros, 25' 42"
2) T-Mobile @ 8"
3) Credit Agricole @ 27"
4) Liquigas-Bianchi @ 31"
5) Illes Balears @ 45"
6) Domina Vacanze @ 49"
7) Fassa Bortolo @ 50"
8) Gerolsteiner @ 52"
9) Davitamon-Lotto @ 54"
10) Rabobank @ 1' 03".
At the 2nd check, Liberty Seguros sets the best time again at 31" better than Credit Agricole. Phonak is only 5th at the 25km checkpoint... they are 33" back of Liberty Seguros.
Azevedo pulls off the front of the Discovery train... they are now through the 25km check, and they are 2nd at 9" behind Liberty Seguros. They usually go easy in the first section of the course and then blister the 2nd half, so we'll see if they follow that strategy again.
Boonen and the Quick Step men come across the line in 1h 13' 44", 4th for the moment. They'll fall a lot though as the faster teams come through.
Discovery looks very tight and disciplined. They still have all nine men. They are in a virtual dead heat with T-Mobile right now for 2nd behind Liberty Seguros. I think the hierarchy is going to change a lot before the end.
Well, well, CSC smokes the 25km checkpoint - 6" faster than Liberty Seguros and 15" faster than Discovery!
T-Mobile has now put 13" into Liberty Seguros by the 2nd checkpoint at 45.8km. Steinhauser has been left behind by T-Mobile, which currently has the best time halfway through.
So with all teams through the 25km point, here are some times:
1) CSC 25' 36"
2) Liberty Seguros @6"
3) Discovery @15"
4) T-Mobile @ 15"
5) Credit Agricole @ 33".
Liberty Seguros has now shed Marcos Serrano, down to eight men. Illes Balears sets the best time at the finish with 1h 12' 44", crossing with only five men. Not bad at all for men like Karpets and Mancebo.
Gerolsteiner is 6th at the 45.8km check, giving up 1' 10" to T-Mobile. Remember that placing is more important than time gaps in most cases in this TTT format.
Check that, Gerolsteiner was 5th when they went through. They are losing time, but picking up places. Now Credit Agricole cross in 1h 12' 20", a strong finish.
Phonak comes through the 45.8km point... They are 3rd, 42" back of T-Mobile. Like Gerolsteiner and T-Mobile, Phonak seems to be picking up the pace.
So, students, take out your slide rules and your time combobulators... Liberty Seguros is coming to the line with mighty Roberto Heras leading the way, sprinting like... well, not like Petacchi, but like a very fast Heras.
They will be the fastest: 1h 11' 32" for the Liberty boys, well ahead of Credit Agricole. However, the teams behind have been accelerating and it looks doubtful that Liberty's time will hold up.
Whoa Nelly! Discovery has gone through the 45.8km point with at time of 47' 14", 1" up on T-Mobile! They are putting the hammer down too!
Discovery is sporting those white-shouldered, specially-designed Nike skinsuits... very cool looking... and now Lance is driving the train, doing a very, very long pull. They still have all nine men. They are looking tough... we'll see what CSC does.
Zabriskie leads CSC through the 45.8km check... the Yellow Jersey drives it home, and they are 7" up on Discovery. This means they've lost about 6" since the last check to Lance's crew. Oh yeah, this is getting good.
T-Mobile comes across in 1h 11' 14", best time at the finish so far. Ullrich was driving that train home, doing a huge turn. Jalabert and Grabsch are now gone from Phonak... they are splitting apart under the pressure in the 2nd half of the course. Moos has also been shed.
Armstrong is doing another huge pull at the front of the Disco line. Now he pulls off and Noval comes through again. They have the full nine, as does CSC.
Well, Phonak is looking ragged on an uphill drag. Zampieri is now missing turns at the back, barely hanging on. If he falls off the pace, Phonak will be down to the minimum of five.
Gerolsteiner coming into the home straight with only seven men. Leipheimer is grimacing and sprinting on the way in. They finish in 1h 12' 44", and that is not what they wanted. They are in 5th right now, and will likely end in 8th by the time the others behind cross the line.
Well, now it's looking like Gerolsteiner may have just nipped Illes Balears by fractions of a second. That will save them 10" by the end.
Lombardi dropped off the CSC train on a stiff uphill section. Okay, here comes Phonak... they are driving with five men towards the finish. Landis comes through for the finishing straight. They end in 1h 12' 10", which is 3rd best for now. It will likely be 5th after Discovery and CSC come through.
That's a bad day for a team that thought they could win it.
Discovery now with only 2km left. They have really been accelerating, especially on those hills near the end of the course. They were 24" up on T-Mobile at the 61.5 km check. Here comes the sprint up the finish.
Armstrong comes up behind Hincapie, who is driving it up the finish... Armstrong takes over, Savoldelli on his wheel. Here they come: 1h 10' 39", that was awesome.
CSC still has 2" on Discovery at the 61.5km mark!
CSC is motoring... this is a real barn burner! Zabriskie in his perfect TT position leading the train. He pulls off, sliding towards the back of the eight-man group.
This is sooo close. CSC is now at 2km, working their way through the corners of the city. It looks like they may be slipping behind Discovery, but who can tell? The sprint to the finish will be the distance. Zabriskie has crashed! Zabriskie has gone down! He hit the barriers, and his team is not waiting.
His Yellow Jersey is ripped open on his left ribs, that was horrible. Zabriskie is just tooling in, having lost his jersey he knows.
Here comes Julich driving it home, and they will not do it... they are 2" behind Discovery at the finish. Zabriskie is just rolling sadly up the finishing straight. A lonely ride this, and he's in pain. His team had to go on to protect Basso, their designated leader.
Zabriskie is gritting his teeth, clearly angry and hurt and disappointed, with an armada of cameras behind him recording this very unfortunate turn of events.
Well, frankly, that is just awful. Zabriskie was doing so well, riding so strongly, looking like he would hold onto Yellow. Then with 1.5km left he clips the barriers and goes down. Let me tell you, I'm glad I'm not a reporter who has to try to interview Zabriskie right now.
So here are the team results, which don't include the times of men like Zabriskie who didn't finish with the team and which doesn't account for the funky structure of the times given:
1) Discovery Channel 1h 10' 39"
2) CSC @ 2"
3) T-Mobile @ 35"
4) Liberty Seguros @ 53"
5) Phonak @ 1' 31".
Zabriskie was in the middle of the CSC paceline when he went down. He might have clipped the wheel of the man in front of him. The men behind him had to jump to the right to avoid the crash.
Zabriskie went down on his left side, and then spun down and around into the barriers, his feet still stuck in the clips. That will be a serious problem for him in the days to come... he's very banged up at the least, and may find out he's quite injured later on. But he finished, rolling across the line in disgust.
Lance is now in Yellow, 55" ahead of Hincapie, Voigt 3rd at 1' 04". Sheryl Crow gives Lance some love as the team prepares to go up on the podium together. They kept all nine to the finish, very impressive.
Lance says that his team was unbelievable this year. Indeed they were, but so was CSC. Discovery was pushed very very hard by CSC. That was the most exciting TTT I've ever seen. It's just too bad that it had to end with such a deserving, hard-working, and talented Yellow Jersey wearer like Zabriskie going down like that.
The Discos are dancing on the podium, not really but metaphorically, saluting the crowd with their flowers in hand.
Hincapie says this is one of the hardest events in the Tour, and that they are very happy and excited to win. He says that this year they stayed together, and that he was really happy with his ride. He's stoked to take the TTT for the third year in a row.
Armstrong steps up to the podium to take his 67th Yellow Jersey, smiling broadly, having put even more distance to all of his big foes. You know, Basso was a big winner today... he only lost 2" to Lance, and put good time into everybody else. He could be back in the running in this Tour. We'll see how his legs hold up in the mountains, of course... the Giro could have sapped him a bit too much.
So here is a selective look at the GC as it stands now:
2) Hincapie @ 55"
3) Voigt @ 1' 04"
4) Julich @ 1' 07"
6) Popovych @ 1' 16"
7) Vinokourov @ 1' 21"
9) Zabriskie @ 1' 26"
10) Basso @ 1' 26"
13) Savoldelli @ 1' 33"
14) Ullrich @ 1' 36"
15) Sastre @ 1' 36"
20) Landis @ 1' 50"
25) Karpets @ 2' 13"
27) Botero @ 2' 18"
28) Leipheimer @ 2' 21"
30) Klöden @ 2' 29"
37) Heras @ 2' 58"
53) Evans @ 3' 29"
59) Mancebo @ 3' 39"
65) Menchov @ 3' 53"
80) Rogers @ 4' 11"
81) McGee @ 4' 12"
103) Horner @ 4' 54"
113) Moncoutie @ 5' 11"
147) Mayo @ 5' 48"
189) Flores @ 12' 26".
Well, interesting to see Iker Flores as the Lanterne Rouge... his brother Igor was the Lanterne Rouge in Paris a few years back. Of course, Iker is an attacker who you can bet will be off the front in the mountains. Also interesting to note that all riders are still in the race... nobody has abandoned yet, which is a huge change from a year ago.
So that's our coverage for today - we apologize for the molasses-like slowness of the site during the ticker - we thank you for your readership and your patience. Full results to come, and please be with us again tomorrow for Stage 5!!
Full results and classifications