U.S. Postal Service Delivers; Armstrong in Yellow
Lance Armstrong (U.S. Postal Service) leads the Tour de France. His teammates delivered the yellow jersey to him with a dominating performance in the Tour's 64.5-km team time trial. USPS covered the course in 1:12:03. Phonak finished second at 1:07, and Illes Balears took third at 1:15.
Euskaltel, which is not known as a time trial team, set the early standard. The Basques set out in light rain and posted a 1:14:38. Saeco came within one second of the Basque squad, but Euskaltel's time remained the standard until Illes Balears posted a 1:13:18 about 45 minutes later.
Illes Balears's time stood until Phonak, which was victimized by four punctures and a broken handlebar that required a bike change, bettered it with a 1:13:10. The Swiss squad finished with five riders, the minimum allowed under the rules.
CSC was expected to compete for the win, but punctures and crashes bedeviled the Danish outfit, which finished fourth. A similar fate befell T-Mobile, which dropped Giuseppe Guerini and Rolf Aldag and slowed to wait for the latter. The German team was only ninth fastest at the first time check but rallied to finish fifth.
The last team to start was the U.S. Postal Service, which won the event last year. At the first time check (19 km), the American squad was fifth fastest at 0:37. Soon thereafter, the team dropped Benjamin Nozal. The Posties took command, however, and led at 42 km and 58 km en route to victory. At the finish, George Hincapie and Armstrong clasped hands and smiled.
The rain and the new time trial rules victimized many, including the winners. The rules were intended to prevent strong time trial squads from blowing open the race, and they accomplished the writers' intent. Despite winning the stage by more than a minute, Lance Armstrong put only 0:20 into Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) and 0:40 into Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile). Armstrong was publicly philosophical about the rules, saying that he could not change them and that he was happy with his team's performance, but inwardly, the man from Austin must have rued what many saw as misguided rules.
The rules victimized individual riders such as Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) and Carlos Sastre and Andrea Peron (both from CSC). The former crashed on the penultimate turn of the course and finished 0:07 behind his teammates but lost 1:12. Peron and Sastre finished 0:03 behind their teammates but lost 1:49. Clearly, the rules need to be revamped or, better yet, scrapped.
In the overall, Armstrong leads teammates Hincapie and Floyd Landis by 0:10 and 0:16, respectively. Stage 5 will be a rolling, 200.5-km run from Amiens to Chartres. Armstrong has said that he will not defend the yellow jersey. That could open the door one or more escapees. Who will it be? Check in at http://www.roadcycling.com/ and find out!
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