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Although important to the overall battle for yellow, the team time trial rarely produces drama to match the mountains or the bunch sprints, but today's 67.5km slightly wind-assisted blast from Tours to Blois won't be forgotten in hurry. The bare facts are that Discovery Channel won the stage by a mere two seconds from Team CSC, with T-Mobile a not-too-distant third at 36 seconds, and that this proved enough to put Lance Armstrong into the yellow jersey, 55 seconds ahead of team-mate George Hincapie, with CSC's Jens Voigt third at 1-04.
Those facts, however, hint at the drama, as the previous holder of the yellow jersey, David Zabriskie, sank down the overall standings when he crashed two kilometres from the finish with his team apparently heading for a first-ever victory in the team time trial.
Coming through the final check, with 6km remaining and with Discovery upping their pace to record speeds, CSC still held a narrow two-second advantage, which would have been enough to keep Zabriskie in yellow for at least another day. Pushing hard to keep this advantage coming into the closing stages, Zabriskie appeared to clip a barrier and crashed very heavily, sustaining multiple cuts to his legs and arms.
But with the stage win in play, there was no time for his CSC team-mates to ease off and wait for the American to remount. Zabriskie might have been a yellow jersey in severe trouble, but the Danish team had to think about their leader, Ivan Basso, and, more importantly in such a prestigious stage, maintaining the advantage they had held through three intermediate check points to the only check point that really mattered at the finish in Blois. Agonisingly, they finished two seconds outside Discovery's time, and Zabriskie's crash almost certainly made the difference.
There were hints of the drama to come right from the start of the stage, as Euskaltel flew through all of the checks at record speed for a Tour TTT. The previous best had been the 54.930kph average achieved by the Gewiss team in the 1995 Tour, but as the unfancied Spanish squad pushed this past 55kph it became apparent this was to be no run-of-the-mill time trial.
Although Euskaltel's performance was a great effort from a team basically built around climbers, it didn't remain the quickest for long. First, Davitamon-Lotto knocked almost 90 seconds off the Basque's time, then Liquigas-Bianchi took another half a dozen seconds off that mark. Half an hour later, Illes Balears improved on Liquigas' time by another 21 seconds, and all the time information was coming through from the intermediate checks that the more fancied teams were going even faster.
CSC were quickest at the first check (25km), with Liberty Seguros at six seconds and Discovery and T-Mobile at 15. CSC kept a six-second lead at the second (45.8kpm), but now it was over Discovery, who, as they did last year, were moving up through the field when it really mattered. T-Mobile were just another second slower.
By the final check (61.5km), however, only two teams were in it as far as the stage win was concerned. By this point, during the only undulating part of the course, teams were losing riders, or at least all the teams were except Discovery, and this may well have proved vital as well in the final reckoning.
After Discovery clocked 1-10-40 over the 67.5km course for an astonishing average speed of 57.32kph, there was an agonising wait for CSC to finish, made only more so by Zabriskie's unfortunate crash.
The question now is whether anyone can budge Armstrong from the yellow jersey over the next two and a half weeks and prevent him flying off to Texas and retirement with a seventh title.
Stage 4, Tours-Blois
1 Discovery Channel 67.5km in 1.10.39 (57.32kph)
2 Team CSC 0.02
3 T-Mobile 0.36 (0.30)
4 Liberty Seguros 0.53 (0.40)
5 Phonak 1.31 (0.50)
6 Crdit Agricole 1.41 (1.00)
7 Illes Balears 2.05 (1.10)
8 Gerolsteiner (1.20)
9 Fassa Bortolo 2.19 (1.30)
10 Liquigas-Bianchi 2.26 (1.40)
11 Davitamon-Lotto 2.32 (1.50)
12 Rabobank 2.48 (2.00)
13 Domina Vacanze 3.04 (2.10)
14 Quick Step 3.05 (2.20)
15 Bouygues Telecom 3.08 (2.30)
16 Euskaltel 3.59 (2.35)
17 Lampre-Caffita 4.09 (2.40)
18 Cofidis 4.28 (2.45)
19 Francaise des Jeux 4.46 (2.50)
20 Saunier Duval 5.06 (2.55)
21 Ag2r 5.23 (3.00)
* adjusted time loss in brackets (see earlier story for details)
1 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel 9.59.12
2 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 0.55
3 Jens Voigt (Ger) CSC 1.04
4 Bobby Julich (USA) CSC 1.07
5 Jos Luis Rubiera (Spa) Discovery Channel 1.14
6 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel 1.16
7 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile 1.21
8 Benjamin Noval (Spa) Discovery Channel 1.26
9 David Zabriskie (USA) CSC
10 Ivan Basso (Ita) CSC
14 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile 1.36
17 Luke Roberts (Aus) CSC 1.38
20 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 1.50
24 Robert Hunter (SA) Phonak 2.12
25 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Illes Balears 2.13
27 Santiago Botero (Col) Phonak 2.18
28 Andreas Klden (Ger) T-Mobile 2.29
30 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 2.31
33 Joseba Beloki (Spa) Liberty Seguros 2.43
36 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros 2.58
46 Allan Davis (Aus) Liberty Seguros 3.22
53 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 3.29
55 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Illes Balears 3.32
59 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears 3.39
68 Fred Rodriguez (USA) Davitamon-Lotto 3.57
71 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 4.01
80 Michael Rogers (Aus) Quick Step 4.11
81 Brad McGee (Aus) Franaise des Jeux 4.12
86 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis 4.25
103 Chris Horner (USA) Saunier Duval 4.54
118 Matt White (Aus) Cofidis 5.15
147 Iban Mayo (Spa) Euskaltel 5.48
160 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Ag2r 6.06
161 Baden Cooke (Aus) Franaise des Jeux 6.24
1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step-Innergetic 70
2 O'Grady 50
3 Wrolich 49
4 Hushovd 47
5 Davis 38
9 McEwen 26
King of the Mountains
1 Erik Dekker (Hol) Rabobank 6
2 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Bouygues Telecom 5
3 Rubens Bertogliati (Swi) Saunier Duval 3
4 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Gerolsteiner 3
5 David Ca¤ada (Spa) Saunier Duval 2
6 Nicolas Portal (Fra) Ag2r 2
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