The Astana squad did an exceptionally well-orchestrated turn in the team time trial today to win the Stage 4. In doing so, they placed 4 riders in the top 5 and nearly took the Yellow Jersey from Cancellara.

Astana Rolls to a Win in Stage 4

The team time trial is a special event which is held every so often in the tour.  The last was held on Lance’s supposed farewell tour of 2005.  In previous years the potential to take time out of opponents was limited.  This year the actual time of the team or finishing rider was straight off the clock.  If you finish with the team, no matter what place, you get the fifth man’s time.  If you fall off pace you get the time you clock in with.  While the 39km route was relatively short, there was plenty of distance to take contenders completely out of the tour.  That is exactly how it played out.

There was high drama from the opening team to the last.  The horseshoe shaped from starting and ending in the city of Montpellier was very technical in nature.  Several teams had members wreck around corners due to winds or misjudgments.  Rabobank’s Menchov had a spill into the barriers on a tight corner early in the ride.  His tour is seriously on the ropes at 3:52 back.  It is unlikely he will find a way back into contention.  One team, BBox, lost 4 riders on a sweeping windy turn that ultimately cost the entire team several minutes.  All this falling set the stage for the strongest teams at the end of the start list.

The four teams that were favored to contend for the stage did not disappoint.  Only Liquigas snuck in to steal on of the top four spots, nudging Columbia into fifth.  Most of the drama surrounded the top three teams including Cancellara’s Saxo Bank, Martin and Vande Velde’s Garmin/Slipstream, and Lance and Contador’s Astana squad.  First out of the blocks was Saxo Bank.  Cancellara led the team from a really slow start to a powerful finish placing the team third overall.  Garmin shed all but the required five riders by the halfway point and still was able to bring home a great ride.  Considering four of the five Garmin riders were TT specialists including Bradley Wiggins, David Millar, David Zabriskie and Christian Vande Velde, it is a wonder the fifth, Hesjedal, was able to hang on at all.  They placed an impressive second.  It was the Astana squad that dazzled though.  It was widely predicted that they would win.  And win they did.  They rode smoothly and powerfully in perfect form the entire route.  Dropping Popovych is testimony of the pace they were going.  Popo doesn’t get dropped without cause you see.  Astana took the top spot on the day with a gap of 18 seconds over Garmin and 40 seconds over Saxo Bank.

As for the overall, Lance was 40 seconds behind Cancellara at the start giving them both the same time.  The overall was given to Cancellara due to a millisecond lead on the Stage one time trial.  Other riders including Menchov, Cadel, Sastre, and the Schleck’s took a real beating today.  It will be extremely challenging for them to make up the time.  For Menchov and Cadel, their chance to podium is likely over.

With Armstrong leading the Astana squad, it will be interesting to see if they leverage Saxo Bank to manage the race or press for yellow.  I suspect they will ride eyes open for opportunity but will hold off till the first mountain stage, (Stage 7, Friday, 7/10) to make a move.  That should be a barn burner.

Time Checks:

First time check at Grabels (10km)

1. Caisse d’Epargne 12.35
2. Astana .07
3. Garmin-Slipstream .07
4. Team Katusha .09
5. Liquigas .12

Second time check at Murviel-Les-Montpellier (19.5km)

1. Astana 25.27
2. Garmin-Slipstream .23
3. Liquigas .34
4. Team Saxo Bank .38
5. Caisse d’Epargne .42

Third time check at Pignan (30.5km)

1. Astana 37.32
2. Garmin-Slipstream .17
3. Team Saxo Bank .41
4. Liquigas .48
5. Columbia-HTC .57

Finish at Montpellier (39km)

1. Astana 46.29
2. Garmin-Slipstream .18
3. Team Saxo Bank .40
4. Liquigas .58
5. Columbia-HTC .59
6. Team Katusha 1.23
7. Caisse d’Epargne 1.29
8. Cervélo TestTeam 1.37
9. AG2R La Mondiale 1.48
10. Euskatel-Euskadi 2.09
11. Rabobank 2.20
12. Quick Step 2.26
13. Silence-Lotto 2.35
14. Française des Jeux 2.46
15. Team Milram 2.48
16. Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne 2.58
17. Lampre-NGC 3.24
18. Agritubel 4.17
19. BBox Bouygues Telecom 4.41
20. Skil-Shimano 5.23

Stage 4 Race Reports

Cycling News
Yahoo Sports
ESPN
Velonews
Velonews (Astana’s new Trek time trial machines)

Stage 4 Video

ESPN Video

Stage 4 Results

1. Astana 46.29
2. Garmin-Slipstream .18
3. Team Saxo Bank .40
4. Liquigas .58
5. Columbia-HTC .59
6. Team Katusha 1.23
7. Caisse d’Epargne 1.39
8. Cervélo TestTeam 1.37
9. AG2R La Mondiale 1.48
10. Euskatel-Euskadi 2.09
11. Rabobank 2.38
12. Quick Step 2.44
13. Silence-Lotto 2.35
14. Française des Jeux 2.46
15. Team Milram 2.48
16. Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne 2.58
17. Lampre-NGC 3.24
18. Agritubel 4.17
19. BBox Bouygues Telecom 4.41
20. Skil-Shimano 5.23

Overall Standings

1 Fabian CANCELLARA, SAX 10h38’07” 00”
2 Lance ARMSTRONG, AST 10h38’07” 00”
3 Alberto CONTADOR, AST 10h38’26” 19”
4 Andréas KLÖDEN, AST 10h38’30” 23”
5 Levi LEIPHEIMER, AST 10h38’38” 31”
6 Bradley WIGGINS, GRM 10h38’45” 38”
7 Haimar ZUBELDIA, AST 10h38’58” 51”
8 Tony MARTIN, THR 10h38’59” 52”
9 David ZABRISKIE, GRM 10h39’13” 1’06”
10 David MILLAR, GRM 10h39’14” 1’07”
11 Sergio PAULINHO, AST 10h39’23” 1’16”
12 Christian VANDE VELDE, GRM 10h39’23” 1’16”
13 Gustav LARSSON, SAX 10h39’29” 1’22”
14 Maxime MONFORT, THR 10h39’36” 1’29”
15 Roman KREUZIGER, LIQ 10h39’38” 1’31”
16 Michael ROGERS, THR 10h39’39” 1’32”
17 George HINCAPIE, THR 10h39’43” 1’36”
18 Yaroslav POPOVYCH, AST 10h39’43” 1’36”
19 Vincenzo NIBALI, LIQ 10h39’43” 1’36”
20 Andy SCHLECK, SAX 10h39’48” 1’41”
21 Ryder HESJEDAL, GRM 10h39’53” 1’46”
22 Jens VOIGT, SAX 10h40’10” 2’03”
23 Kurt-Asle ARVESEN, SAX 10h40’12” 2’05”
24 Kim KIRCHEN, THR 10h40’23” 2’16”
25 Frank SCHLECK, SAX 10h40’24” 2’17”
26 Brian VANDBORG, LIQ 10h40’32” 2’25”
27 Vladimir KARPETS, KAT 10h40’38” 2’31”
28 Franco PELLIZOTTI, LIQ 10h40’39” 2’32”
29 Carlos SASTRE, CTT 10h40’51” 2’44”
30 Nicki SORENSEN, SAX 10h40’51” 2’44”
31 Fabio SABATINI, LIQ 10h40’57” 2’50”
32 Bert GRABSCH, THR 10h40’58” 2’51”
33 Mikel ASTARLOZA, EUS 10h41’01” 2’54”
34 Luis PASAMONTES, GCE 10h41’03” 2’56”
35 Cadel EVANS, SIL 10h41’06” 2’59”

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