Team Astana Wins 2009 Tour de France Team Time Trial
Team Astana today won the 4th stage of the 2009 Tour the France, a team time trial over 39 km in and around Montpellier. In the process of winning today, Lance Armstrong just missed taking another maillot jaune by tenths of a second to Fabian Cancellara (Team Saxo Bank) who has been wearing the yellow leader's jersey since his opening time trial Sunday.
Standing proudly on the podium the nine team riders smiled widely as they accepted their flowers, medallions and the congratulations of an appreciative crowd.
With Cancellara and Armstrong tied, the next three slots on GC all belong to Team Astana with Alberto Contador in 3rd at 19-seconds back, Andreas Kloden 4th at 23-seconds off the pace and Levi Leipheimer rounding out the top five at 31 seconds behind.
Team Garmin-Slipstream and Team Astana were even on time at the first check point, just behind leaders Caisse d'Epargne by seven seconds. At the 2nd time check Team Astana had grabbed the lead and were 23 seconds ahead of Team Garmin-Slipstream. Still in front at the 3rd check point the advantage had gone down to 17 seconds which lasted all the way to the finish line in Montpellier. With Armstrong repeatedly taking incredibly long and very impressive pulls throughout the stage, it was Contador who led through the last rise to the finish line with the clock stopping at 00:46:29 on the fifth man, who just happened to be Armstrong.
Interview with Lance Armstrong after the finish.
Is this a bittersweet victory because of missing yellow?
"Yes and no. We did what we could. That's cycling. We can look at each other and say that we did our best. The most important thing is that we won the stage and took time on the other rivals. I said it earlier to Alberto as well that it is so important that we take time to Evans, Sastre and the others. We were fairly successful. I wouldn't like to be two minutes down right now."
The race was perfect for you and the team?
"We came last week to Montpellier to see the stage. Johan Bruyneel already had the order of riding in his head. We tried that order that day and we did the same today. Like usual, he was right. The result speaks for itself. You always feel that somebody is stronger than you. For me, if I analyze our performance, I would say that Klöden and Popovych were the strongest, but overall the team was consistent. We were smooth. We didn't make any mistakes. No mis-turns, no crashes, no flat tires."
After your return, did you expect to be so close now?
"No. What happened yesterday, you couldn't expect that neither. It's nice to be close, to win a stage, to win an event we like so much. We will see now.
This is a confession: 12 months ago I expected it to be easier, so yes, I expected it. Six months ago I did not expect it any more. I realized that it was harder than I thought. I was just disrespectful to Carlos Sastre or Cadel Evans. This is not easy at all. Today I am realistic. I have both feet on the ground. It will not be like in 2001 or 2005. It will be harder. That's as honest as I can say it."
You came back after four years and you brought to the race in the last four days more spectacle than in the last four years...
"I think there was excitement the last four years. A day like yesterday was just a surprise. There were questions about the tactics of yesterday. It was just luck. Tomorrow Evans can be in the front and we might not be."
Are you one of the favorites now?
"I am happy with where I am. I don't know if I'm the best in the race. I came in this race thinking that I would be one of the best, based on the trainings and tests that I've done, based on the trainings with Levi Leipheimer. "
How do you keep the cohesion in the team?
It's not nearly as difficult as the media makes it up to be. The first week of the Tour the media have to find something to write about. In Monaco it was about Vinokourov and Bruyneel, yesterday it was about Contador and me. Next week it will be something else. In the mean time we just ignore those things and Alberto does that too. We proved today that we are just a good team. Most of this falls to the responsibility of Johan Bruyneel and our directors. They have to direct the team and the tactics and attitude in the team. We go forward with two leaders. I am confident we will find a good solution. "
Now your team doesn't have to defend the yellow jersey?
"There will probably be less pressure, but this will not change the race for us. We wouldn't have tried to control the race tomorrow anyhow. The Tour will not be decided in week one but in part two of week three. "
A few days ago the former president of ASO, Patrice Clerc, said that your return to cycling brought with it the return of doubt.
"Was the Tour of ASO in a perfect situation when I was gone? He was the boss. Under his leadership cycling was not perfect. The question should be returned to him."
Interview with Alberto Contador
Are you happy or not happy because of missing the yellow jersey?
"I think that today we have to be very, very happy. We have distanced enough riders like Sastre, Evans, Menchov and even the Schlecks. It's only a pity we missed the yellow jersey. Always you like to have the maillot and especially Lance, with what it means for him. On the other hand, this allows us to ride more relaxed."
How did you feel during the stage?
"I felt like I was one of the strongest riders but the course was not so good for me personally. It's a pity that there were not more climbs. It was especially in the climbs that I felt comfortable."
After only four days, it looks good for your team?
"For the moment things are very good in the overall, but it is necessary to keep concentration, because we have completed only four days, though it seems that we’ve passed a lot of days of the Tour. The coming days in the Pyrenees will be interesting. Our rivals will have to attack. We will have to be awake."
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