By Brecht Decaluwé in Autun with additional reporting from John Trevorrow
With only 33" separating Cancellara from GC-contender Andreas Klöden, and 29" to second-placed Thor Hushovd, it seemed likely that the time trial World Champion would finally concede his Maillot Jaune on stage five, but fate worked in his favour and despite nearly crashing on the final descent into Autun, the Swiss rider prevailed for another day.
"When the mountains come the time in yellow will be over for me," he told Cyclingnews. "So for sure there will come a day that I have to give this back. Then another job starts for me as I want to give everything back what they [the team -ed.] are giving to me these days, I want to thank CSC, my teammates for that."
"With Fränk Schleck and Carlos Sastre we have guys with GC ambitions and I hope that it stays with the team; we will try to keep it. For now we'll focus on the coming days as Thursday's stage isn't too hard."
Stuart O'Grady, who has been faithfully devoting his entire Tour to the service of the yellow jersey, despite being banged up by his crash in the prologue, had been ready to let the jersey go Thursday morning. "Thor Hushovd is now within striking distance of the jersey, so maybe we will look at handing it on sooner rather than later," he said after stage four. However, when the race unfolded, it played into the CSC team's hands.
"By this morning the team had decided that enough was enough. We'd worked very hard and solidly and had been fortunate enough to have been rewarded with a large slice of the cake. But we know there's a hell of a long way to go. So we made the considered decision to let the break go, and the yellow with it," O'Grady explained. "But as we know, this is the Tour de France, and quite a number of teams haven't done anything yet. We took the view that it was up to them to decide if the Tour was to have a new leader. Or that one of them was going to try to win a stage.
"I believe that justice was done as it was Liquigas which did most of the work all day, and thoroughly deserved the win. Full credit to them and Filippo Pozzato. It was a tough, typical Tour stage. There were a lot of riders really suffering on the narrow, dead and unforgiving roads today. Now the tour is really starting."
Cancellara, for his part, has been too busy this Tour de France to truly appreciate what he's done so far. "I think I need a few days after the Tour de France," he confessed. "During the race you haven't got time to really realize what you did. It's still two and a half weeks hard work. For sure, for me it's easier as I already have a few things in my pocket," he smiled.