Today's team time trial will be a 67.5km test of discipline, endurance and determination that's likely to at least partially affect the outcome of the race. The team TT won't have as great an effect as it might, as Tour rules limit the amount a team can lose to three minutes, preventing a team that's weak in this discipline from getting knocked right out of the running this early in the Tour. Nevertheless, any team with serious ambitions for the general classification has to ride well today.
CSC boss Bjarne Riis sees the team TT as a chance to defend Dave Zabriskie's yellow jersey. "We're one of the strongest teams, but it doesn't hurt that we're starting last," Riis said on CSC's website. "We'll have a strong base with Bobby, Jens, Luke and Dave. I think we'll be among the best."
"It's our goal to win this time trial," Riis added in a Belgian TV interview.
In its former guise as US Postal, Lance Armstrong's Discovery Channel team blew the opposition into the weeds in last year's team time trial, grabbing the leader jersey for Lance Armstrong. Riis knows what his team has to do today. "To keep the jersey, we have to beat Discovery," he said. "They're the strongest team, along with us and Phonak. I think it will be close."
Dave Zabriskie is realistic about the possibility of seeing his three-day run in the yellow jersey come to an end. "It would be nice to keep the jersey," he said. "Two seconds isn't a lot. We'll really have to go 100 percent to beat Discovery."
Zabriskie's team-mate Jens Voigt hinted jokingly at one possible 'problem' for the team. Asked how long Zabriskie could stay in yellow, he said, "Well, if he doesn't shake us off and if he let's us ride a little with him tomorrow... if we can keep it tomorrow we could still have it in Germany. But it could be that we make another decision to keep our energy and look good again in the Alps!"
"I'm not going to say that we want to finish 8th or something like that," said Voigt. "I think we are amongst the favourites and it's not arrogant to say it."
Discovery Channel general manager Dan Osipow believes there are only two likely yellow jersey riders after the team time trial: Zabriskie and Lance Armstrong. "One of the Tour's most crucial days is upon us, tomorrow's 67.5 kilometer time trial," Osipow writes on thepaceline.com. "The winner of the event the past two years, the team has taken yellow following both victories (with Victor Hugo Pena in 2003 and Lance last year) and could very well do the same tomorrow should the team make it three-for-three."
Osipow acknowledges that Tour team time trial rules limit the advantage to be gained today, but says, "there is a strong chance Lance Armstrong can take the lead from CSC's Dave Zabriskie should the Discovery Channel team defeat CSC. With the larger gaps to the next highest placed riders - Credit Agricole's Lazlo Bodrogi is third at 47 seconds with T-Mobile's Vino in fourth at 53 seconds - it appears the jersey will either stay with Zabriskie or be taken away by Armstrong."
After the opening time trial Lance Armstrong said chasing rival Jan Ullrich was an advantage. In the team time trial, that advantage will lie with CSC. "They are leading the team GC through three stages - by four seconds - [so] they will start last tomorrow, thus having the advantage of knowing our time splits," said Osipow.
As the ONCE team, Liberty Seguros-Würth was a pink-clad team time trial powerhouse in the Tour for many years, and its win in the 2002 stage put Igor Gonzales de Galdeano into the yellow jersey. The team hasn't been as strong in recent years, but manager Manolo Saiz believes it can still make a mark today. "I have confidence in my team, though others are more favorite than us to win," said Saiz in a team statement. "Our strength is that we can do this type of race, be among the top finishers and be in a good position to tackle the mountains."
Gonzalez de Galdeano describes his 2002 stint in yellow as, "the best souvenir I have as cyclist" but knows it cannot be repeated this year because of the time gaps established on the first day. "With the adjusted times that exist now, it is a question of not losing more than of winning," he said, "because the differences will not be very wide. Of course, we all want to win because this is where the team's image is shaped and also where people can see what sort of form each one is in at the moment."
Unlike 2004, where some teams had already lost riders in the treacherous Belgian opening stages, all teams should start this year's time trial with a full complement of nine men.
"We are lucky because we have not lost any riders in the first two stages and the team will be complete," says Gonzalez de Galdeano. "To have nine riders is fundamental for a better recovery between [stints on the front]. A man less is a big lack, because here the strongest rider does not win, but the team. Armstrong cannot win alone tomorrow, he needs his team-mates too."
Discovery is the favourite, "because it won last year," says Gonzalez de Galdeano. "But we are at the same level as they are, as CSC, Gerolsteiner and Phonak. Anyone can win."
Rabobank manager Theo de Rooij has been coming in for some flak in the Dutch media for his team's lack of success in recent Tours. He told Sporza radio that things are not going to change in the time trials.
"We have to be realistic," said de Rooij. "We don't have a team here selected for the TT. We need to try and [win] in breaks, like Erik did today, because we have no sprinter here. We have to get through this first week the best way we can and wait for the mountains."