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TDF’09 St.4: Astana Dominant, Fab Still Yellow
Race Report: 39 kilometers were to serve as the grounds on which to first parse out the contenders from the pretenders in earnest in today’s Stage 4 to Montpellier. There were crashes, spills, thrills, and when all was said and done, the leader board had a new paint job. Read on, if you dare.

The TTT was back for the first time since 2005, and it meant so much more this year, because without the rule limiting time losses, the stakes were much higher.

In the early going, it was seemingly an emptying clown car. World Champion Allesandro Ballan went ass over teakettle. Jurgen Vandenbroeck touched wheels and did the asphalt pirouette. Denis Menchov performed an unplanned high speed dismount after over cooking a turn. The entire BBox team decided on some cyclocross action by taking en masse to the dirt. And this was all before the big teams took to the course.

Obviously, with the rules being changed this year from set time bonuses to “what you get is what you get” on the clock, teams were taking every risk in the book. Some weaker teams faced their tour hopes being nuked today, and they knew it.

By the time the heavy hitters took to the course, Katusha sat atop the leaderboard with a time of 47.52. AG2R rolled in with a respectable time, the Skil-Shimano boys came in down a man and down almost 4 minutes.

Cervelo Test-Team, the squad of 2008 Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre, set off resplendent in their new white skinsuits, no doubt hoping to limit their losses. Silence Lotto had already had a fall and lost a minute by the first check, by the end it was a minute and a half and Cadel had split his own team into two groups with his ferocious ending pull. Milram was kicking riders off the island, losing two before the 2nd check.

Poor Cadel Evans saw his Tour dreams get a little blurrier. He’s almost three minutes down already.

Garmin took to the course right as Silence finished. Experience, rivalries, and the yellow jersey somewhat in sight had to be huge motivators for the Argyle team. Behind them, Saxo Bank, with the yellow jersey among its ranks, set off. After them, Columbia-HTC took to the road with the world tt champ, Italian tt champ, and the green jersey in their group.

Garmin cut through the first check in 2nd overall, and the effort cost them Tyler Farrar, who tailed off. Danny Pate came through after a pull and expected to see Tyler at the end, but missed him and couldn’t close his own gap. Garmin looked to be in trouble right away. Julian Dean popped next. Oh dear.

And lastly Astana, the favored team, set off to huge cheers. While there has been much discussion over leadership among the ranks, one can’t help but think this team is the best at this discipline and no matter what damage they inflict today, Contador will stamp his authority on the ranks in the mountains come Friday. As Astana plowed down the course, they shed Gregory Rast early on. I bet Horner wouldn’t have gotten dropped. Just sayin’.

Garmin, with only 5 guys left standing, slotted best time at the second check in most impressive fashion. The Argyle boys had the bit in their teeth and now down to only time trial specialists they were going full tilt. At the same time, Liquigas finished best time, 25 seconds better than the Russian squad of Katusha.

Saxo Bank dang near had a group nap at the same corner that claimed the BBox team. Reformed a half a k later, they pressed on intact but it cost them as they hit the second check with only the 3rd best time, 14 seconds slower than Garmin. Columbia managed 5th at the 2nd check.

Garmin finished with 5, and nearly a half a minute ahead of Liquigas to take the top spot. An amazing ride!

Astana meanwhile, after all the calculus, looked down on time to Garmin, but up on Saxo Bank and Lance Armstrong looked poised to take his first yellow jersey in 4 years. The Texan drove his team on taking massive pulls under the watchful eye of the clock.

Columbia seemed to have had some issues and despite finding themselves with 7 riders, could only manage 4th with Astana still on course. Quite the turnaround from the Giro TTT.

With Astana the last team on course, it was coming down to a series of seconds to determine who would be wearing what color. In the last 2k, the team shed Yaroslav Popovych as they screamed down the lanes. And at the line, Astana took the day by :18 over Garmin, and :40 over Saxo Bank but it wasn’t enough as the clock favored the Swiss and his team by tenths of a second. It literally was that close.

So a few days from now the road goes up and more secrets will be revealed. One thing’s for sure we have the makings of a great race in the offing, and we’ve only just begun.

Stage 4 Results
1. Astana 46:29
2. Garmin 0:18
3. Saxo Bank 0:40
4. Liquigas 0:58
5. Columbia 0:59

General Classification After Four Stages
1. Cancellara 10:38.07
2. Armstrong 0:00
3. Contador 0:19
4. Klцden 0:23
5. Leipheimer 0:31
6. Wiggins 0:38
7. Zubeldia 0:51
8. Martin 0:52
9. Zabriskie 1:06
10. Millar 1:07
12. Vande Velde 1:16
16. Rogers 1:32
19. Nibali 1:36
20. A Schleck 1:41
25. F Schleck 2:17
28. Pelizotti 2:32
35. Evans 2:59
45. Gerdemann 3:11
53. LL Sanchez 3:18
72. Menchov 3:52


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