Team time trial win gives Spaniard lead

After 4th stage, Galdeano on top

Armstrong in 3rd, only 7 seconds behind

Tour De France

July 11, 2002|By Bonnie DeSimone | Bonnie DeSimone,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

CHATEAU-THIERRY, France - Yellow is the color at the tip of a flame, and Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano is in the hot saddle now.

Galdeano took the Tour de France's overall lead by virtue of his ONCE team's smooth, impressive victory in yesterday's team time trial in 1 hour, 19 minutes, 49 seconds. It is the first time a Spanish rider has worn the leader's jersey since Miguel Indurain mounted the last of his five podiums in 1995.

That could put pressure on the 28-year-old, as his countrymen would love to see him wearing that same hue when the race moves into the Pyrenees eight days from now. Gonzalez de Galdeano is well aware of that, and he downplayed the honor after Stage 4.

"As far as the race goes, the lead doesn't mean anything [to me]," he said. "Obviously, it means something to the team."

Although Gonzalez de Galdeano beat defending champion Lance Armstrong in an individual time trial earlier this year, he isn't exactly tooting his own horn.

"Armstrong is another level above me," the Spaniard said. "I'm going well, but he's super."

U.S. Postal's second-place finish, 15 seconds behind pre-stage favorite ONCE, leaves Armstrong lurking where he wants to be - right on Gonzalez de Galdeano's wheel, in third place, seven seconds behind. Joseba Beloki of ONCE rode his team's coattails into second overall.

The team time trial can help a rider with aspirations for a good overall finish, but it has far more power to hurt. Armstrong is content to lie in wait until the mountain stages, a strategy that has worked for him in the past two Tours. He and team director Johan Bruyneel both expressed relief at surviving the 41.9-mile test without mishap.

"I'm a little surprised, but I'm not disappointed," Armstrong told French television.

Bruyneel said he was satisfied even though he would have been happier with a win. "I know we have a good team, but I knew it would be a very tight contest with [ONCE]," he said. "On the road, it's the truth that counts and today, ONCE showed they were more coordinated than we were."

The major subplot of the day involved veteran French rider Laurent Jalabert, who saw his chances of wearing the yellow jersey again - he is 33 and may not have many more shots at it - shrink considerably.

CSC-Tiscali, the Danish team co-piloted by Jalabert and Massachusetts native Tyler Hamilton, was going strong when Danish time trial champion Michael Sanstoed had to have a flat front tire replaced about 12 miles from the finish.

CSC had already lost one rider, and there was confusion - increased by faulty radio communication - about whether to wait or press on. In the interim, the riders lost their rhythm.

Jalabert didn't try to mask his disappointment.

"This makes three times that I've been close to the yellow jersey [this year], and it's really too bad," he said.

Hamilton said the team had executed its tactical plan well to that point. "We really needed Michael in the final flat, so it was our goal to get him over the climb without him suffering too much," he said. "When he flatted, none of us knew it. We soft-pedaled for about 30 or 45 seconds, and it was just wasted time.

"Normally, I don't say this, but I think without that flat, we would have won the stage. It's a bummer."

Bonnie DeSimone is a reporter for The Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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