Astana won the fourth stage of the Tour de France today, a 39km team time trial around Montpellier with an imperious display of strength that moved Lance Armstrong within inches of the yellow jersey.
Questions were raised yesterday about the dubious unity within the Astana team, but today they united with the common goal of protecting Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador’s positions on general classification.
Regardless of team loyalties, the team united as a cohesive unit to beat Garmin and Saxo Bank by a comfortable margin.
Setting the fastest times at the second and third checkpoints over the rolling, technical course, Armstrong looked set to wrestle the yellow jersey from the shoulders of Fabian Cancellara.
Armstrong needed 40 seconds from Cancellara and he took exactly 40 seconds.
The Texan was mobbed as he crossed the line, the belief being that he had taken his first yellow jersey since 2005. However, it was the Swiss rider who successfully managed to defend his lead thanks to the hundredths of a second differentiating the two.
Astana’s time meant that Armstrong and Contador both moved a few steps closer to the maillot jaune, but Contador must have been delighted that the Texan did not steal the lead, for the first mountain stage on Friday could have meant even greater internal strife.
Indeed, the Spaniard was all smiles on the podium; for him, it was the perfect result. A step closer to yellow for him but with Armstrong not quite close enough.
Despite losing four of their nine men, Garmin were an impressive second, but by their standards this will be a disappointment and the technical course wreaked havoc with their ordinarily well-drilled and well-oiled team time trial machine.
Big losers on the day were Carlos Sastre and Cadel Evans who lost almost three minutes to the Astana train apiece.
Stage four: Montpellier-Montpellier, 39km
1. Astana 46-29
2. Garmin 46-47
3. Saxo Bank 47-09
4. Liquigas 47-27
5. Columbia-HTC 47-28
6. Katusha 47-52
7. Caisse d’Epargne 47-58
8. Cervélo 48-07
9. Ag2R 48-18
10. Euskaltel-Euskadi 48-39
11. Rabobank 48-50
12. Quick Step 48-55
13. Silence-Lotto 49-05
14. Francaise des Jeux 49-15
15. Milram 49-18
16. Cofidis 49-28
17. Lampre 49-54
18. Agritubel 50-47
19. Bbox Bouygues Telecom 51-11
20. Skil-Shimano 51-52
Overall classification after stage four
1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Saxo Bank in 10-38-07
2. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana at same time
3. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana at 19secs
4. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana at 23secs
5. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana at 31secs
6. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 38secs
7. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Astana at 51secs
8. Tony Martin (Ger) Columbia-HTC at 52secs
9. David Zabriskie (USA) Garmin-Slipstream at 1-06
10. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 1-07
Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia-HTC
King of the Mountains
Jussi Veikkanen (Fin) Française des Jeux
Best young rider classification
Tony Martin (Ger) Columbia-HTC
Astana came together to win the team time trial
Fabian Cancellara keeps the yellow jersey – but it was close
Mark Cavendish leads the sprinters’ points classification
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