Will Discovery defend the jersey?

Lance Armstrong's Discovery Channel team battled all along the 67.5km parcours from Tours to Blois...

Lance Armstrong's Discovery Channel team battled all along the 67.5km parcours from Tours to Blois with maillot jaune David Zabriskie's CSC team, but it was Armstrong and Discovery who had all the luck and Dave Z's CSC squad that lost out. Although they were a few seconds ahead of Discovery entering the final 3km, an unexpected crash by Zabriskie in the final 1,300m lost the stage for CSC by two seconds and ended Zabriskie's maillot jaune run. After narrowly winning the stage, Armstrong put on the 67th yellow jersey of his career in Blois. The result was a new record speed for a team time trial, as Discovery Channel posted an average speed of 57.32 km/hr, besting Gewiss-Ballan's ten year record speed of 54.930 km/hr.

Discovery Channel team manager Johan Bruyneel was delighted at the result, the team's third straight TTT win in the Tour de France. "We knew it was going to be a really close match today; that's what we wanted and expected," said Bruyneel. "We knew that CSC started faster than us, because I sent someone out on the parcours early [Trek's Scott Daubert] to take a time split. I told the guys 'keep the rhythm going and stay together' and at the end, that worked. Our team was like a beautiful machine out there and we made up the difference in the end. I'm really happy the way the things turned out."

His team's discipline and CSC's bad luck were the crucial factors in Discovery Channel's victory. "We were able to keep our team together, CSC weren't, they lost a guy, Zabriskie," Bruyneel told Belgium's TV1. "That's probably what made the difference; but ifs and whens don't buy anything.

"It is important for a team to win today. You can only gain a maximum of 20 seconds on your competition, so you don't really need to win it for the time gain. But, we've won the TTT three years in a row now and it makes all the difference to the atmosphere in the team. This evening, at the table the atmosphere is fantastic."

An obviously chuffed Lance Armstrong said with a smile, "Yeah, it was probably the plan today to take the maillot jaune today. And it's always nice to have the maillot jaune. But I don't know if we'll defend it. We'll just have to sit down with Johan tonight and see what he thinks. There are three or four flat stages to go, so it won't be that easy. Maybe we'll get a little help from the sprinter's teams like Quick.Step, Davitamon-Lotto and Crédit Agricole."

Bruyneel added, "We have the yellow jersey and we're going to think about it tonight. We're here to try and win the Tour de France and we're going to find out the best strategy. We have a great team, with a great friend like George (Hincapie) or a young guy like Popovych, but Ekimov isn't here today so I want to dedicate this win today to him. Always nice to win this event to show that the team is complete, strong and well balanced, and more importantly, to give the first maillot jaune to the Discovery Channel, a company that came in and supported us for a long time, with a three year commitment. I'm honored to be with these guys and it's nice to give them their first yellow."

But Armstrong may not be looking to try and keep the jersey, saying "There's still a lot of racing to go before we get to Paris; a lot of nervous days... it'll be tricky."

Speaking later from the team hotel, Bruyneel told TV1 "I don't know if Zabriskie would still be wearing yellow if he hadn't crashed. You can say he wouldn't have been in yellow in the first place if Lance hadn't pulled his foot in the first TT; so maybe it just evens out. A fact is a fact, our team won today and Lance is in yellow. It's a real pity for Zabriskie that he crashed."

"It would have still been a good result if Discovery got second with five seconds," added Bruyneel. "But people would wonder then: what happened? So it's great that we did win this TTT a third time in a row."

The time trial victory has put five Discovery Channel riders in the top ten on general classification and boosted team morale. "The atmosphere is good in the team," said Bruyneel. "Everyone feels like they have been part of it. Some of our guys were a bit worried about today, but we finished with nine riders so the morale is very good.

"Lance feels good too; he was the strongest in the team today. The minute and a half he's got now is good; it's better to have this lead than to have lost a minute an 30 seconds."

As at the Dauphine, Armstrong is accompanied on this Tour by his girlfriend, singer Sheryl Crow. "Sheryl is really interested in what Lance and the team do," said Bruyneel. "She's gotten really involved and is getting more and more knowledgeable. She reads up on everything concerning the cycling, checks the Internet. She knows so many names too; I think she actually knows more names than Lance!"

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