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In a reaction which hinted at a future endorsing his countrymen's favourite Calsberg lager, Danish CSC supremo Bjarne Riis last night admitted that his team's near miss in the stage 4 team time trial between Tours and Blois was "probably" the biggest disappointment of his career as a directeur sportif.
Riis cut a dejected figure as he faced the media moments after escorting a wounded David Zabriskie back to the CSC team bus after the fall 1400 metres from the line which, Riis claimed, cost his men victory and Zabriskie's yellow jersey yesterday. With Zabriskie's blood still smeared on his hand, Riis could add merely: "We really wanted this win. We are very disappointed. We had no luck."
CSC team leader even Basso was equally disappointed, but tried to remain upbeat as Zabriskie was taken away to hospital for X-rays. "Two seconds at the end of 67 kilometres are nothing," rationalised the Italian. "When Zabriskie fell, Bobby Julich and I were right behind him and it's a miracle that we didn't fall, too. Unfortunately, the rest of the team had to wait a second or two for Bobby and I.
"Julich, Voigt and Zabriskie are real specialists in this event and they did a great job today," Basso continued. "We can at least be happy that we took some time off T-Mobile. Lance is 1-26 ahead of me now but, to my mind, the race only starts at the end of this week. I feel sorry for David but I'm sure he'll come back to do a great time trial in Saint Etienne in the last week and help me in the mountains before that."
The 28 seconds Basso gained on Jan Ullrich and Alexandre Vinokourov may have looked like crumbs of comfort, but both T-Mobile leaders were justifiably satisfied with what was perhaps their best ever performance in this event to finish third.
Vinokourov has looked a model of power and poise so far in this Tour, just as he was yesterday. "The team rode well and I'm happy," the Kazakh confirmed. "Personally, I felt good - I had good legs today. I think that Jan also felt good today and certainly better than in the time trial in Noirmoutier on Saturday. I think that he's completely over the shock of his accident in training last week."
Vinokourov, now seventh on GC at 1-21 from Armstrong, affirmed last night that he was "ready for hostilities to begin". "The serious stuff could start even be before the Alps," he added, no doubt with a twinkling eye on Sunday's stage through the Vosges or even the ascent of the Col de la Schlucht and finish at Grardmer the previous day.
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