July 07, 2009

Stage 4 TTT: Astana firing on all cylinders

If yesterday's Stage 3 was The Columbia Show, today was Astana Hour. Whatever the situation on the team bus, they worked as a single cohesive unit on the twisties around Montpellier, and built time gaps on many of the Tour's GC threats.

Early on, some big names hit the pavement, including Rabobank's Denis Menchov and Lampre's Alessandro Ballan. Four Bbox Bouygues Telecom riders misjudged a bend, and wound up in the rough. Later, Skil-Shimano's Piet Rooijakers broke his arm and left the course, leaving 178 riders in the race.

After the stage, many riders complained that the course was too technical for a TTT.

Saxo Bank's Jens Voigt, one of the hardest men in the sport, said he saw Quick Step take a spill even before they had reached the start line:

“We have bikes worth 10,000 Euro, and in the end we can't use them properly because we're just busy trying to hold balance instead of putting our power on the pedals."

Cadel Evans, who has made a point in the press how much more relaxed he is in this year's Tour, sprinted away from his squad as they approached the finish, leaving his teammates struggling to the line in 49:05, which would be 13th best on the day.

Garmin lost 4 riders in the first 12k, but were left with their five best TT men, who set new best times at the final three intermediate checkpoints, and finished in 46:29.

Saxo Bank, with yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara doing long, draft-horse quality pulls, turned in a very strong 47:09.

Columbia, possibly feeling the effects of that 30k race to the line on Stage 3, came in with a respectable 47:28, but trailed Garmin, Liquigas, and Saxo Bank at every intermediate check.

And then there was Astana. Leading the team competition, they were last to start, and they rotated smoothly with big pulls from Klöden, Leipheimer, Contador, and Armstrong. At the first time check, they were a little slower than Caisse d'Epargne, which had kicked the day off with a jackrabbit start they couldn't maintain, but Astana led at every later checkpoint. Once Saxo Bank finished, everyone was looking toward 46:29, the time that would put 7-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong back into yellow.

In the last few k, it became clear it would be pretty close. In the final k, it looked very close. In the last meters, it looked insanely, ridiculously close, until Astana came through in … 46:29. The Tour's offical website put Armstrong into yellow (and I followed suit), but not so fast. That 46:29 put Cancellara and Armstrong in a tie, so officials looked at the fractions of a second in Stage 1, and found that Cancellara had held the race lead by .22 second.

Officially, the leaderboard shows Cancellara first, with Armstrong second “at :00.” There was a suggestion (notably from Robbie McEwen via Twitter) that Armstrong sat up to leave Cancellara in yellow; I've watched it a couple of times, and can't see why you would go that hard to the line if you were that close to taking a yellow jersey you didn't want.

Of note: Liquigas was 4th, a big boost for Roman Kreuziger; my apologies to the Euskaltels, who were middle of the pack, finishing 10th at 2:09. Sastre ends the day 29th at 2:44, Evans 35th at 2:59, Pereiro 40th at 3:03. Menchov, who looked invincible in May, is in 72nd, 3:52 back.

Top 10:
1) Astana, in 46:29
2) Garmin-Slipstream, at :18
3) Team Saxo Bank, at :40
4) Liquigas, at :58
5) Team Columbia-HTC, at :58
6) Team Katusha, at 1:23
7) Caisse d'Epargne at 1:29
8) Cervelo Test Team, at 1:37
9) AG2R-La Mondiale, at 1:48
10) Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 2:09

GC after Stage 4:
1) Fabian Cancellara, Team Saxo Bank, in 10:38:07
2) Lance Armstrong, Astana, at :00
3) Alberto Contador, Astana, at :19
4) Andreas Klöden, Astana, at :23
5) Levi Leipheimer, Astana, at :31
6) Bradley Wiggins, Garmin-Slipstream, at :38
7) Haimar Zubeldia, Astana, at :51
8) Tony Martin, Columbia-HTC, at :52
9) David Zabriskie, Garmin-Slipstream, at 1:06
10) David Millar, Garmin-Slipstream, at 1:07

Posted by Frank Steele on July 7, 2009 in 2009 Stage 4 TTT, 2009 Tour de France, Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre, Denis Menchov, Fabian Cancellara, Garmin-Chipotle, Jens Voigt, Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, Top Stories | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Preview: Stage 4 TTT - Montpellier

One of the expected early-Tour showdowns unfolds today in Montpellier.

As with Stage 1, the 2009 team time trial is being run over a shorter distance than normal, 39 kilometers or about 24 miles. The shorter distance helps equalize for the elimination of the tiered time limits, which kept the weaker TT teams (cough, Euskaltel, cough) from falling hours behind on a 90-minute ride. The leading riders on a team all receive the time of the 5th rider across the line.

The course twists and turns with some rolling country hills and some city streets, and the possibility of more stiff winds like we saw yesterday. This kind of course should favor smart and smooth teams over pure power.

Three time checks, at 9, 19.5 and 26.5 kilometers.

A number of GC contenders aren't looking forward to today's stage. Carlos Sastre's Cervelo Test Team is pretty thin, as is Silence-Lotto, riding for Cadel Evans.

Three teams stand out here, and each has US connections.

Slipstream-Chipotle TTTs
Slipstream TTTs,
originally uploaded by Frank Steele.
Garmin has a very strong TT squad (Zabriskie, Millar, Wiggins, Hesjedal, Vande Velde), which came 2nd at the short TTT in the Giro this year, and won the 2008 Giro TTT (putting Christian Vande Velde in the Giro lead) and a very up-and-down TTT at the 2008 Tour de Georgia. They've spent a lot of time on the discipline, they bring 5 strong TT riders, and this may be their single best chance at a stage victory in this Tour.

Columbia was the team that beat Garmin in the Giro this year, but at least two of their TT studs spent a lot of time driving the break yesterday. Columbia-HTC has the minor advantage of being totally invincible, seemingly winning everything everywhere the last month or so. They also could grab another leader's jersey, by beating Saxo Bank (and double TT world champion Fabian Cancellara) by :33 and keeping Astana and Garmin close, which would put their Tony Martin (already in white) in yellow, as well.

Finally, Astana is a psychic successor to the Postal Service, which won the last TTT in the Tour, back in 2005, on the way to Armstrong's 7th Tour victory. If they could put 40 seconds into Saxo Bank and 30 seconds into Columbia without giving up 30 seconds to Garmin, they could put Lance Armstrong into the maillot jaune.

Caisse d'Epargne rolls first, at 8:30 Eastern. Garmin-Slipstream departs at 10:22 Eastern, Saxo Bank 10:29, Columbia 10:36, and Astana last at 10:43.


Podium Cafe | Sizing Up The Teams For the Stage Four TTT

CyclingFans.com | Team Time Trial Start Order and Times

Posted by Frank Steele on July 7, 2009 in 2009 Stage 4 TTT, 2009 Tour de France | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack