Germany’s Tony Martin is among a few Tour de France riders who could be forgiven for dreaming of pulling on the race’s coveted yellow jersey after the fourth stage team time trial on Tuesday.
The first 26.5 km of the 39km team time trial, an event which was last held at the Tour in 2005, is over slightly undulating terrain on which the specialist teams will have little chance to make big time gaps.
It is only over the relatively flat last 12.5 km that Saxo Bank, Garmin, Astana and Columbia will be able really to put their collective units into top gear.
Ahead of Monday’s third stage from Marseille to La Grande Motte, Martin was the best placed rider in Columbia at only 33secs behind race leader Fabian Cancellara of Saxo Bank.
Of course, the Danish outfit is hoping the power of Olympic champion Cancellara helps power their nine-man train, but team manager Bjarne Riis doesn’t seem too concerned at possibly losing the yellow jersey.
“Astana, Garmin and Columbia are all strong, but we’ve got a good team of riders behind Cancellara,” said Riis.
“We’ve gone over the time trial course twice, and have worked a fair bit on this event. Maybe we’ll win, maybe we won’t but I don’t think there will be big time gaps between the favourites.”
But Columbia, who won the team time trial at last month’s Giro d’Italia, have shown their intent by previewing the course seven times and should be strong contenders to win the stage along with Garmin.
Compare that approach with the likes of Cofidis. When asked if they had gone over the 39km course at least once, climber David Moncoutie said: “Ah no, not at all.”
Losing riders over the team time trial is not uncommon as the time is taken from the fifth rider over the finish line.
Columbia team manager Allan Peiper said he can forgive some of his weaker riders missing their designated relays, but he wants them to make amends by staying with the unit for as long as possible.
“It’s not that bad for us if someone misses a turn, but it’s very important that the last riders to drop off have given their maximum,” he said Monday.
Bradley Wiggins of Garmin, and the Astana team of Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong, also have a chance to take over the race lead from Cancellara.
Britain’s reigning Olympic pursuit champion Wiggins is third in the overall standings at only 19secs behind Cancellara.
Astana have four riders in the top ten, with Contador their best placed at only 18secs behind Cancellara, Germany’s Andreas Klöden in fourth at 22, American Levi Leipheimer sixth at 30 and Armstrong 10th at 40.
However, after Saturday’s opening stage, Astana team manager Johan Bruyneel was coy about whether taking hold of, and having to spend energy defending, the yellow jersey was really in their plans.
“It’s still 18secs on Alberto and that’s a pretty big difference. It’s 39km (long) and it’s been a while since we’ve had a team time trial,” said Bruyneel. “It’s not our objective anyway.”
Armstrong’s Astana fined for late registration
Lance Armstrong’s Astana team were fined on Monday after failing to sign on within the specified time at the start of the third stage of the Tour de France here.
Heavy traffic in Marseille city centre meant Astana broke the organisers’ rule that teams must register for the stage at least 20 minutes before the start of the race.
The Kazakhstan-backed cycling team have been fined 65 euros for the infringement.
“How typical that this team were late. It is disrespectful to the public who came here just to see Armstrong,” said race director Jean-Francois Pescheux.
“The money makes no difference to them. We will ask the UCI (the sport’s governing body) to make the fines harder.”
The delay is reported to have been caused by Armstrong sharing a cup of coffee with A-list Hollywood actor Ben Stiller, who was visiting the Tour’s VIP area here on Monday morning.
Armstrong had a cameo role in the 2004 movie Dodgeball in which Stiller starred.