U.S. Postal Service Wins Team Time Trial
The U.S. Postal Service has won Stage 4 of the Tour de France.
The U.S. Postal Service has won Stage 4 of the Tour de France. The American squad came from behind to take the rolling, 69-km event in 1:18:27. ONCE finished second at 0:30, and Team Bianchi took third at 0:43. Victor Hugo Pena (U.S. Postal Service), a former national swimming champion in Colombia, has become the first Colombian to don the yellow jersey.
U.S. Postal Service, which had finished second in the Tour's previous three team time trials, put everything together today. George Hincapie, who was sidelined with illness for much of the spring, "was unbelievably strong," according to USPS team director Dirk DeMol. Roberto Heras, an exceptional climber but not a good time trialist, finished with the team. The same can be said of Manuel Beltran, who joined the Postal Service late this past spring. The team was 0:06 behind ONCE at the 44-km time check but won by 0:30. Everyone came through in the clutch.
ONCE has nothing to be ashamed of. The Spanish squad had won two of the three team time trials held in the Tour since the event's reintroduction in 2000. Moreover, the team had competed strongly in other races, such as the Vuelta a Espana and the Tour of Catalonia, and had nearly always won. ONCE rode strongly and consistently and has put Joseba Beloki in a position to contend on GC.
Team Bianchi has also put itself in a strong position. The team has two Grand Tour winners, Jan Ullrich and Angel Casero, who are also excellent time trialists. During the next two weeks, the two men could challenge strongly.
IBanesto.com was unexpectedly strong. The team put captain Francisco Mancebo into a good position. With the Alps coming this week and the Pyrenees later on, Mancebo could have something to say about the final result.
CSC, which nearly won last year's team time trial, figured to do as well before Tyler Hamilton broke his collarbone. The Danish squad limited its losses well in finishing tenth at 1:45, but the team probably cannot avoid thoughts of what might have been.
Telekom did a good job putting Santiago Botero into contention. The German team was sixth at 1:30, and Botero is less than two minutes behind four-time defending champion Lance Armstrong (U.S. Postal Service). Alexander Vinokourov, Botero's teammate and someone who might ride strongly in this year's Tour, is also less than 2:00 behind the man from Austin.
The day's big losers were Rabobank, Saeco, and Euskaltel. Rabobank lost captain Levi Leipheimer and Marc Lotz to the crash at the finish of Stage 1. The Dutch squad was game but undermanned and finished 16th at 2:41.
Saeco finished 17th at 3:02, which deals a blow to captain Gilberto Simoni's hopes. The Giro champion is 3:08 behind Armstrong and will have to go on the offensive in the Alps.
Euskaltel is not known as a time trial squad, but losing 3:22 is not what the team had planned. Iban Mayo, who is the Spanish team's GC hope, is more than three minutes behind Armstrong and will need to attack in the days to come.
In the overall, Pena leads teammates Armstrong by 0:01 and Vyatcheslav Ekimov by 0:05. Tomorrow's stage probably will not change that state of affairs. The rolling, 196.5-km ride from Troyes to Nevers is likely to see a group of freebooters sally off of the front of a peloton that will not want to chase them after the team time trial. Will the peloton's long break specialist, Jacky Durand (La Francaise des Jeux.com) ignite the action? Check in at http://www.roadcycling.com/ and find out!
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