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For the first time since Joop Zoetemelk refused to wear the yellow jersey the day after race leader Bernard Hinault was forced out of the 1980 race in the Pyrenees with knee trouble, there was no yellow jersey in the Tour de France as the peloton set off from Chambord this morning. Lance Armstrong, who took the jersey in yesterday's team time trial, decided against wearing the jersey as a tribute to former yellow jersey Dave Zabriskie, who crashed 1400 metres from yesterday's finish when he would almost certainly have kept the race lead if he had stayed upright.
Armstrong set off from the neutralised start in Chambord in regulation Discovery Channel team kit. However, after the peloton had covered the five kilometres to the deneutralised start point, race director Jean-Marie Leblanc waved the riders to a halt so that Armstrong could change into the famous yellow tunic having paid tribute to the unfortunate Zabriskie.
According to Discovery Channel PR Jogi Muller, the Tour organisation had insisted that Tour rules be respected and that Armstrong wear the yellow jersey. "Our intention was just to make a gesture of respect towards Zabriskie," said Muller. "But the rules are categorical and if Lance hadn't worn the yellow jersey he could have been thrown off the race. We heard, however, that Zabriskie really appreciated the gesture."
Perhaps the most famous occasion when the yellow jersey was not worn occurred in 1971 when Eddy Merckx refused to don it in tribute to Luis Oca¤a, who had crashed out of the race the day before in a rainstorm on the col de Mente.
Doubts about whether Zabriskie would appear in the race today disappeared when the CSC rider joined the peloton as it rolled out of Chambord. Zabriskie had stitches in his right arm last night, but x-rays revealed that he had not broken any bones.
"We have just got the results of the x-rays and nothing is broken," said CSC's media officer, Brian Nygaard last night. "He's still got some pain in his right knee which we'll look at tomorrow but he will start the stage."
Zabriskie commented: "I am not happy with what happened but that's life. I'm extremely disappointed because we were very, very close to winning the stage and I was close to keeping the yellow jersey.
"Team time trials are so hard that at the end of it you are at your limit and everybody is cross-eyed. There were a lot of turns in the final kilometres and it's easy to make a mistake like that."
Asked at this morning's stage start what he thought had caused him to crash, Zabriskie replied: "I don't really know, it was something strange. Maybe the chain slipped or something. All I can say is that things are very stressful at that point in the race."
Close study of the slow motion replay of the incident suggested that a chain slip might well have caused Zabriskie to fall. Heading down the hill into Blois, Zabriskie's right leg appeared to drop very suddenly, sending the American lurching to the left and then down onto the ground.
Speaking just before the stage start, Armstrong said that he felt the crash had made a difference to the result and that it was right for him not to appear in the yellow jersey. "When we looked at the crash, we realised it must have made some difference to the times, and because it was so close between the two teams he would probably have kept the yellow jersey if he hadn't crashed. Not wearing yellow this morning seems like the right thing to do.
"I feel really sorry for the guy because I know how it feels to go down that hard. I just hope he's OK."
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