Team's effort clothes Armstrong in yellow

9-man unit's win gives 5-time winner Tour lead

Tour De France

July 08, 2004|By Diane Pucin | Diane Pucin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ARRAS, France - There are dangers ahead, plenty of them, in the Tour de France. Wind and rain is predicted over the next three days, meaning treacherous road conditions.

A fan could step in the way. Lance Armstrong knows all about that, having hit a spectator last year while heading up a mountain. Or he could get caught up in a mass crash, get sick or succumb to the realization that a 32-year-old has a harder time climbing a 10,000-foot mountain than a 22-year-old does.

Armstrong has not won a record-setting sixth straight Tour yet.

But the smile on his face yesterday afternoon in this 2,000-year-old town showed more than a little satisfaction at his progress in the race.

Armstrong earned the yellow jersey, worn each day by the leader of the Tour, for the first time in the young race not only because he is the Tour's undisputed favorite but also because his team, U.S. Postal Service, is the best. On team trial day, a 40-mile sprint in intermittent downpours and gusty winds from Cambrai, the team rode as a single, unyielding line of blue-clad, heads-down cyclists.

Despite new rules this year, possibly in response to U.S. Postal Service's dominance of last year's team time trial, Armstrong's squad gave him precious extra seconds that might matter later.

Through a complicated formula, the time the winning team could gain over its rivals was capped, depending on what place a team finished. So even though American Tyler Hamilton's team, Phonak, finished second - 1 minutes, 7 seconds behind Postal - Hamilton lost only 20 seconds to Armstrong.

And though the T-Mobile team of five-time runner-up and 1997 champion Jan Ullrich finished fourth and 1:19 behind Postal, Ullrich only lost 40 seconds to Armstrong.

But a message had been sent.

Actually, it was sent Saturday when Armstrong rode with ferocious purpose in finishing second in the prologue, well ahead of his main rivals.

At the first time check yesterday, a third of the way into the race, U.S. Postal was fifth. But it was not an indication of trouble; it was a sign of patience. The team did not want to ride too aggressively until it had a sense of how wet the roads were and how tricky the winds blew.

But, Armstrong said, there might have been some anxiety. "We started slow, got behind, maybe some of the guys were nervous. But it's a sign of a great team to make that up." By the time the Postal team passed the next checkpoint, it was ahead of the field by 28 seconds.

And by the end, when it counted, the team was riding hard and fast and in perfect rhythm. As it approached the finish line, George Hincapie, a fellow American and the man who has been Armstrong's teammate in his five consecutive Tour victories, motioned to his friend that he should come ahead and ride across the line first. Armstrong refused.

"It's a team time trial," Armstrong said. "Nobody is better than the others."

Armstrong refused to be drawn into criticism of the new rules limiting the damage a single team can do to the field.

"You get 20 seconds," Armstrong said, "and 20 seconds is what you get. But 20 seconds or not, you still have the consolation of knowing you have the best team in the race."

With his taking of the leader's jersey, he has now worn yellow 60 times, tying the record of another five-time winner, Miguel Indurain. Armstrong said the record was on his mind all day.

"I knew if we won the team time trial that I would be in yellow," he said.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Tour at a glance

Yesterday: A 40-mile team time trial from Cambrai to Arras, France.

Winner: U.S. Postal Service.

How others fared: Jan Ullrich's T-Mobile Team finished fourth, 1 minute, 19 seconds behind; American Tyler Hamilton's Phonak squad finished second; 1:07 behind.

Yellow jersey: Armstrong takes the yellow jersey for the first time in this year's Tour. Ullrich is 16th, 55 seconds behind. Hamilton is eighth, 36 seconds behind.

Next stage: A 124.59-mile stretch from Amiens to Chartres.

Results

Fourth Stage

40.08-mile team time trial from Cambrai to Arras 1. U.S. Postal Service, 1 hour, 12 minutes, 3 seconds.

2. Phonak Hearing Systems, 1 minute, 7 seconds behind.

3. Illes Balears-Banesto Santander, 1:15.

4. T-Mobile Team, 1:19.

5. Team CSC, 1:46.

6. Rabobank, 1:53.

7. Liberty Seguros, 2:25.

8. Euskaltel-Euskadi, 2:35.

9. Saeco, 2:36.

10. Alessio-Bianchi, 2:57.

11. Quick Step-Davitamon, 3:29.

12. Credit Agricole, 3:32.

13. Ag2R Prevoyance, 4:05.

14. Brioches La Boulangere, 4:17.

15. Domina Vacanze, 4:22.

16. Gerolsteiner, 4:36.

17. Fassa Bortolo, 4:52.

18. Lotto-Domo, 5:19.

19. Cofidis Credit Par Telephone, 5:34.

20. R.A.G.T. Semences-MG Rover, 5:37.

21. Fdjeux.Com, 7:33.

Overall Standings

(After four stages) 1. Lance Armstrong, United States, U.S. Postal Service, 14 hours, 54 minutes, 53 seconds.

2. George Hincapie, United States, USPS, 10 seconds behind.

3. Floyd Landis, United States, USPS, :16 behind.

4. Jose Azevedo, Portugal, USPS, :22.

5. Jose Luis Rubiera, Spain, USPS, :24.

6. Jose Enrique Gutierrez, Spain, Phonak Hearing Systems, :27.

7. Viatceslav Ekimov, Russia, USPS, :30.

8. Tyler Hamilton, United States, Phonak Hearing Systems, :36.

9. Santos Gonzalez, Spain, Phonak Hearing Systems, :37.

10. Bert Grabsch, Germany, Phonak Hearing Systems, :41.

11. Jens Voigt, Germany, Team CSC, :43.

12. Oscar Sevilla, Spain, Phonak Hearing Systems, :44.

13. Manuel Beltran, Spain, USPS, :47.

14. Erik Zabel, Germany, T-Mobile Team, :47.

15. Mikel Pradera, Spain, Illes Balears-B. Santander, :55.

Others

18. Bobby Julich, United States, Team CSC, 1:00.

21. Levi Leipheimer, United States, Rabobank, 1:08.

80. Pavel Padrnos, Czech Republic, USPS, 4:16.

93. Christian Vandevelde, United States, Liberty Seguros, 5:28.

180. Benjamin Noval Gonzalez, Spain, USPS, 22:37.

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