Astana Wins TTT; Armstrong Closes in on Yellow Jersey
Astana has won Stage 5 of the 2009 Tour. The Kazakh squad powered over the rolling, 39-km course in and around Montpellier to win the 2009 Tour's team time trial in 46:29. Garman finished second at 0:18, and Saxo Bank took third at 0:40. Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) remains the maillot jaune, but his lead has been reduced to less than 0:01.
The early news from the team time trial was news of mishaps. Denis Menchov (Rabobank) crashed, and, of course, his teammates waited for him. Four members of Bouygues Telecom went down in a crash. Before that, Laurent Lefevre punctured and changed bikes. Silence lost Jurgen van den Broeck in a crash. Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) crashed. Milram had a crash. None of these teams was expected to be a factor in the stage, but the misfortunes were enough to make one wonder if any team would negotiate the course without crashing.
Cervelo rode a strong, consistent race to take the lead with a 48:07. Liquigas dropped four riders but posted the next standard, a 47:27. With the stage favorites having started or about to start, Liquigas's time did not figure to be the winner.
It was not. Garmin shed four riders. The British squad trailed at the first checkpoint but led at the last two to take the lead with a 46:47. Columbia, Saxo Bank, and Astana were still on the course and had the horses to take the lead.
Saxo Bank was the fifth fastest team at the first time check and the third fastest at the second checkpoint. The Danish squad finished strongly with six men to post what was then the second fastest time of the day, a 47:09.
Columbia did decently. The American squad, which dropped Bernhard Eisel, was sixth, fifth, and fourth at the first, second, and third time checks, respectively, and posted a 47:28, which was fourth fastest at the time. Only Astana remained on the road.
Astana was second to Garmin at the first checkpoint but increased the tempo to seize the lead at the second and hold it at the third. Astana bettered Garmin's time by 0:18. The only matter to sort out was whether Fabian Cancellara would keep his maillot jaune.
The Swiss beat back the Astana challenge. Armstrong has the same overall time as Cancellara, but Cancellara is 22 hundredths of a second faster than the man from Austin. When the narrow time gap was pointed out to Cancellara, he joked, "Time was born in Switzerland, so that was on my side."
Then, the Olympic time trial champion became serious. "It wasn't a good course for a team time trial," he said. "It obliged us to remain calm and go flat out right away. We knew the last km were more suited to a high rhythm. It was only 40 km, not very long, but it was important to stay calm and concentrated, especially in the first part. Our preview of the course also helped a lot, and I think we deserve to retain this yellow jersey today. We can be very proud of what we have done."
The team time trial might have put paid to the idea of anyone but an Astana rider winning the 2009 Tour. After Cancellara, the next four men on GC are Armstrong, Alberto Contador, Andreas Kloeden, and Levi Leipheimer, all of whom are Astana men. After today's carnage, defending champion Carlos Sastre (Cervelo) is at 2:44, Cadel Evans (Silence) is at 2:59, and Giro d'Italia champion Denis Menchov (Rabobank) is at 3:52. These deficits will force these men to attack in the Pyrenees, which the riders will reach this weekend, to have any chance of winning the Tour.
In the overall, Cancellara leads Armstrong by .022 and Contador at 0:19. Stage 5 will not change this state of affairs. Sprinters' teams will probably control the flattish, 196.5-km run from Le Cap d'Agde to Perpignan, particularly because the Pyrenees are approaching and sprinters will not have opportunities to bag stages until next week. Who will snare Stage 5? Mark Cavendish (Columbia)? Thor Hushovd (Cervelo)? Oscar Freire (Rabobank)? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!