The team time trial is always a dramatic stage of the Tour de France as teams battle the clock and fight to surf the ragged edge of nine riders' lactate thresholds. The objective is to stay together to the finish, or at the very least to lose as few riders as possible. But it's a long, extraordinarily hard test and as fatigue accumulates, crashes in the closing kilometres are not unusual. Dave Zabriskie's crash almost within sight of the finish line when his CSC team was on course to win the stage and successfully defend his yellow jersey is nevertheless one of the unluckiest in Tour team time trial history.
Zabriskie's management and team-mates now have to try and recover from this setback. "We were extremely unlucky and of course we lost everything in that crash," said CSC team manager Bjarne Riis. "With three kilometres to go we had six seconds on Discovery Channel, so it's obviously a hard blow to lose both the jersey and the stage win like this.
"On the other hand, it's in tough situations like these we have to stick together as a team and show people what we're made of," added Riis.
As he helped Zabriskie to the team bus, Riis said, "It definitely wasn't our day. Armstrong once again got lucky; and we once again unlucky. The fraction of doubt generated by the crash has cost us the victory."
Zabriskie's team-mate Jens Voigt put Zabriskie's crash down to fatigue after the long, hard effort. "You're exhausted in the end and you assess situations differently than when you've just departed on the course and you're still fresh. Maybe he underestimated that curve or his speed or just wasn't concentrating enough. The finale was very tight, too, as we heard through the radio that we had to give it all because it was so tight. And without the crash maybe we would have won by one or two seconds. But life doesn't work on 'maybe'."
It was upsetting for Voigt to have the team lose in this manner. "What can you say?" he asked. "We prepared perfectly for this, we were first through the whole race and still lost in the end. Then, our yellow jersey crashed badly too, and the doctor has already said that he has to get a couple of stitches, and that maybe some ribs got affected. It's really shitty to lose the jersey in this way."
But the ever-optimistic German has a plan. Asked how the team would get morale back up, he said, "Easy: by going for a kamikaze tomorrow and attack as of kilometre zero! No... we're a little down because we lost. But we were almost there so we can't be that down. The way we lost was stupid, but our performance was right there, so the morale is not that bad."
Before the stage, Voigt had waxed lyrical on the importance of the team time trial as an event that brought together everyone involved in the team. "Winning this time-trial is so important to us," he had said, "because it is the team that wins; and the whole team that is, all the riders, the bus driver, the mechanics, the soigneurs. It's not just one rider that wins, it's all of us. It's something you work together for, you suffer through it together. To win a TTT is so beneficial to the atmosphere in any team. In this team we really make sacrifices for one another. You often hear guys saying 'we're a great team', but here with Team CSC we really are."
T-Mobile happy with third
T-Mobile's third place was the team's best result since finishing in the same place but further behind on time in 2000. Jan Ullrich knew the team had gone well. "We gave everything today," he said after crossing the line. "Each one of us gave his best and I thought it was a great team time trial. Now, I have to look at the result."
T-Mobile manager Olaf Ludwig applauded his riders. "That was a great performance from the team," he said. "I think nobody believed us capable of this especially after Saturday.
"We gained more than 20 seconds on Liberty from km 25 to 47, so that was a very strong period of time for the team and Steinhauser had to let go. That doesn't mean he rode badly, neither did the others who came in afterwards."
Liberty Seguros waits for mountains
Liberty Seguros' fourth place wasn't quite up to the standard the team set as ONCE, when it dominated this event, but manager Manolo Saiz said he was nevertheless pleased with his riders. "We did a good time trial," said Saiz in a team statement. "It was very long and very unequal for us, we had the risk losing some climbers if we went too fast on th efirst part, but that was the only way and they rode very well. Finally, all of them have done a great race and I am very satisfied with my men."
Saiz believes that at three minutes down team leader Roberto Heras is in a good position to challenge for the general classification in the mountains. "Roberto Heras goes out of here in a good position," said Saiz. "Now the aim is to support him there until the mountains come."