Tour de France: Is it already over?

8th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

8 July 2004 , AMIENS - When Lance Armstrong crossed the finish line of Wednesday's fourth stage of the 2004 Tour de France, he was wearing a broad smile. The reason for the grin was his US Postal team's crushing victory in the 64.5-km team time trial, in which it defeated the second-place Phonak team of Tyler Hamilton by 1:07 minutes and beat German Jan Ullrich's T-Mobile by 1:19. As a result, the five-time champion was wearing the yellow jersey of the leader in the overall Tour de France standings for the

8 July 2004

AMIENS - When Lance Armstrong crossed the finish line of Wednesday's fourth stage of the 2004 Tour de France, he was wearing a broad smile.

The reason for the grin was his US Postal team's crushing victory in the 64.5-km team time trial, in which it defeated the second-place Phonak team of Tyler Hamilton by 1:07 minutes and beat German Jan Ullrich's T-Mobile by 1:19.

As a result, the five-time champion was wearing the yellow jersey of the leader in the overall Tour de France standings for the 60th time in his career.

Armstrong now has substantial leads over his most dangerous rivals, with Hamilton 36 seconds behind and Ullrich trailing by 55 seconds.

In addition, the 32-year-old Texas native leads his former lieutenant, Roberto Heras of Spain, by 1:45 minutes and another dangerous Spaniard, Iban Mayo, by a staggering 5:27.

And Armstrong's advantage would have been greater if not for a controversial rule, implemented this year, which limits the time gained by the team time trial winner to 20 seconds over the team finishing second, 30 seconds over the third-place finishers, and so on.

To put Armstrong's lead in the overall standings in perspective, his margin of victory over Ullrich in 2003 was only 1:01 minutes.

But he suffered for that Tour win, dehydrating during an individual time trial, incurring equipment trouble on a grueling mountain stage and crashing on another steep climb when the handlebars of his bike caught a spectator's bag.

Armstrong's smile on Wednesday was a distinct contrast to the grim expression he wore during most of last year's Tour. But was it a smile of triumph? Is the Tour virtually over after only five days of racing?

It very well could be. Wednesday's victory was an impressive triumph of man and equipment that must have sent a powerful and discouraging message to any rider who wants to prevent Armstrong from becoming the first cyclist to win the Tour six times.

Still, the American was trying hard not to sound over-confident, since more than two weeks of very tough racing lie ahead.

"I have always said that the last week (of the race) is the most difficult we will ever have to overcome," he cautioned after Wednesday's stage.

Two more individual time trials are to come, one of them up the daunting Alpe d'Huez on a course with 21 switchback curves and an average gradient of nearly 8 percent.

There are also the stages through the Alps and Pyrenees, where a single error or breakdown could lead to a loss of minutes or a race-ending injury. And the weather could still play its hand, with rain forecast in the near term and hot weather foreseen for the later stages.

However, both in the opening individual time trial, in which Armstrong finished a close second, and in the team time trial, the past Tour champion has looked very much like the future champion.

Asked if he and his team would now try to hold on to the yellow jersey until the end of the race, Armstrong replied, "Our objective is not to defend the jersey. You have to preserve the strength of the team for the second half. So, I expect we'll be willing to give the yellow jersey to someone else - for a little while."

DPA

Subject: German news

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