Discovery Channel wins team time trial
BLOIS, France -- Lance Armstrong is wearing his favorite Tour de France outfit again -- the yellow jersey.
In a thrilling finish -- during which the overall race leader crashed into a barricade -- Armstrong and his Discovery Channel mates set a record of 35.54 mph Tuesday while winning the team time trial. The victory handed the 33-year-old Texan the lead after only four stages.
Armstrong will ride Wednesday wearing the distinctive yellow shirt -- the 67th time he has done so -- and maintaining a critical edge in his bid for an unprecedented seventh straight victory in his farewell Tour.
"It was the plan was to take the jersey, but the priority was to have the best race possible, and gain time on our adversaries," a beaming Armstrong said.
That's exactly what happened.
Armstrong chiseled out a 1:21 lead over T-Mobile's Alexandre Vinokourov, while CSC's Ivan Basso was 1:26 back. Germany's Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour winner, was 1:36 behind the leader.
The victory marked the third straight year that Armstrong's squad won the team time trial, clocking 1 hour, 10 minutes, 39 seconds in the 41.85-mile trek from Tours to Blois.
Discovery Channel now commands seven of the top 15 spots in the standings, with Armstrong sidekick George Hincapie in second.
"The Dream Team," Armstrong said. "For me, in the last year, it's special to have a team like this."
Under overcast skies, the nine-man teams set off one by one through the Loire River valley, known for its majestic medieval and Renaissance castles, and through the town of Amboise, where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last years of his life.
Now, Armstrong and Discovery must decide strategy: maintain the race lead or relinquish the yellow jersey, and the resulting pressure, for now, in hopes of regaining it by the July 24 finish in Paris.
"It's always nice to be in yellow," Armstrong said. "There are three or four flat stages coming, so it will not be easy to defend the jersey."
American rider David Zabriskie of Team CSC began the stage wearing the yellow, but crashed in the final mile after misjudging a turn. He climbed back onto his bicycle and rode gingerly across the finish line alone, his uniform in shreds and left thigh scraped.
Though his CSC teammates raced ahead and were runners-up -- 2 seconds behind Discovery -- Zabriskie fell to ninth and now trails Armstrong by 1:26.
He needed stitches to close a gash on his right arm, but X-rays on his right knee, elbow and wrist showed no broken bones, CSC team spokesman Brian Nygaard said. Zabriskie said he planned to race on Wednesday.
Armstrong sympathized with his former U.S. Postal Service teammate.
"The [team time trial] is so hard at the end that everybody's on the limit, everybody's a little bit cross-eyed," he said. "You come into the city, there's a lot of turns and you get the whipping wind and it's easy to make a mistake like that. So I can clearly see how it happened, but it's clearly a bad one for him."
With their legs pumping rhythmically, the Discovery team moved forward in single file -- with riders swapping the lead to share the effort of battling wind drag at the front.
Team director Johan Bruyneel said he was happy the race went according to plan, and that Discovery met the challenge of strong teams such as CSC and Switzerland's Phonak.
"It was a very tight matchup, as we expected. We kept a good rhythm," he said. "We stayed together -- that was the secret. It was a beautiful machine operating."
T-Mobile was third, 35 seconds off the pace. But because of a controversial race rule that limits time losses in the team time trial, the German squad lost only 30 seconds overall.
The riders now will embark on three relatively flat stages toward Germany, starting with a 113.5-mile stage Wednesday from the Chambord castle to the industrial town of Montargis.
Armstrong insisted the yellow jersey does not mean the rest of the race will be easy.
"There's still a lot of racing to go, a lot of nervous days. Anything can happen, crashes here, crashes there, especially the stages in the [next] few days, which are tricky," he said.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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