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Hello and welcome back to Cyclingnews' continuing coverage of the 96th Tour de France. Today's fourth stage features a team time trial over 39 km with start and finish in Montpelier. We will start our live report at 14:15 CET.
The team time trial hasn't been around for the last couple of years, but is making its comeback. One change you will notice is that the time will be taken when the fifth rider crosses the line, and this time will be used for all riders in his group. This is the “real time” and there will be none of this fussing around with “no rider can lose more than so much time” nonsense of a few years ago.
The organisers say thatt one reason that the course is so short is because of the time ruling. This way no one will really all too much time. But what would the Tour be without a little controversy? The opinions as to the length of this TTT are mixed.
But before we get into that, let's take a look at the starting times. The teams will start in inverse order of their standings in the team rankings.
14:30 - Caisse d'Epargne
14:37 - Team Katusha
14:44 - Rabobank
14:51 - Lampre-NGC
14:58 - BBOX Bouygues Telecom
15:05 - AG2R La Mondiale
15:12 - Skil-Shimano
15:19 - Française des Jeux
15:26 - Agritubel
15:33 - Silence-Lotto
15:40 - Quick Step
15:47 - Cervélo TestTeam
15:54 - Team Milram
16:01 - Liquigas
16:08 - Euskaltel-Euskadi
16:15 - Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne
16:22 - Garmin-Slipstream
16:29 - Team Saxo Bank
16:36 - Columbia-HTC
16:43 - Astana
This is what Jean-Louis Pagès of the race organiser ASO had to say to Cyclingnews' Hedwig Kröner about the length of today's stage. "The major point of this TTT was to not exceed 40 kilometres in length. We had to commit to the new UCI rules, as well as respect a general balance in this Tour de France. We can't ask the riders to race 200 kilometres every day! I don't think it's right to drain the riders' strength by having too long stages.”
"In the past, the team time trials were longer, 60 or 80 kilometres. Contrary to what people say, the course suits a team time trial very well. There are practically no hills, even if some sectors may be a litlle narrow. Some stretches of road tarmac have been worked to meet our standards."
Caisse d'Epargne will open things today, since they are last in the team rankings, and Saxo Bank, Columbia and Astana will finish it off, as the top three teams. And coincidentally, the top three picks of many to win today.
And the first team has started!
There really are a lot of curves and turns and narrow streets on this city course. But lots of spectators too. And we are happy to report that we have blue sky and fluffy white clouds.
Katusha is the next team to hit the track. They have won one TTT this year, at the Tour de Med.
Laurent Fignon, now a France Television consultant, had a different view on things. "Really, I don't understand why this type of course is chosen for a TTT. That's not its philosophy. Whose interest is it to make the riders take so many risks? Moreover, it's too short because time differences are made once the riders start to be used up, between the 40th and the 60th kilometre."
Rabobank is the next team to go. They didn't have a single rider in yesterday's winning break, which did not make them happy.
A crash in the Rabobank train: none other than Menchov. His rear wheel slipped away on a turn. The team waited for him, of course, and he is now back with the others.
We are sure that Menchov doesn't really want to make a habit of crashing in time trials...
Arnaud Coyot of Caisse d'Epargne is already having trouble keeping up with his team, but he manages to catch back up again.
Lampre is the next to go, led by captain Alessandro Ballan.
Lampre is having its troubles today. Breuseghin is on a normal road bike, not a TT bike. And one of them just changed bikes -- maybe that was him? Couldn't catch the number.
Whichever Lampre rider it was, he went down and so needed a new bike. And as it happens, he went down on the same curve as Menchov.
It was Ballan. That is a dangerous place for team captains!
Bbox is the fifth team now underway.
What do you think of the length of this team time trial? You can join in the discussion at forum.cyclingnews.com
Katusha is now down to eight riders. Danilo Napolitano has been dropped.
AG2R is now out of the starter blocks.
There are three intermediate time checks: at km 10, km 19.5 and km 30.5.
Rabobank is wending its way through the countryside And Katusha has lost another one, Styn Vandenbergh.
Rabobank is not riding particularly well as a team. At least one rider takes too much of a lead when he is in front, and isn't paying attention to those following him.
Their intermediate time isn't very good either, nearly a minute back.
The other Dutch team, Skil-Shimano, is now underway. They were thrilled with their performance yesterday, placing four riders in the break.
In fact, there was champage for everyone at Skil last night, as you can read here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/skil-shimano-making-their-presence-known
Laurent Lefevre of Bbox has a mechanical, but he is quickly back with his teammates.
FdJ is the next one to go. Still no one at the finish yet. And Katusha loses number three, Juan Horrach. They only can lose one more.
Erik Breukink of Rabobank told Kröner that he thought the time gaps wouldn*t be too big today, maybe a minute. But his team is already nearly a minute down at the halfway mark.
Four Bbox riders have gone down, off the road and into a field. It looks like they are all getting back up and going, but what a blow! It was on a curve again.
A new best time at the finish: 47.52.38 for Katusha, narrowly ahead of Caisse d'Epargne.
Stef Clement has been dropped by Rabobank.
And Agritubel has taken off!
It looks like all the Bbox riders are back together, but the shock no doubt sits deep. And now Pierre Rolland has a mechanical, to boot.
At the Giro d'Italia, Garmin-Slipstream put an enormously heavy emphasis on winning the opening team time trial, only to finish second. They haven't been talking as much about his one, but team sports director Matt White told Cyclingnews' Kröner, “The course is dangerous, but we have six guys out of nine that have been time trial champions in their respective countries. The most important thing is therefore coordination, teamwork. By testing each rider's wattage, by what I have seen on the road and what the riders tell me, we were able to determine the best possible order of our train, and know exactly how long each rider has to be in front."
Silence-Lotto is now on their way. Meanwhile, Rabo has dropped another rider and is down to seven.
Rabo comes in nearly a minute down on Katusha. Looks like Menchov will lose even more time today.
Rabobank finish in 48.48
Lampre-NGC through third time check 1.50 down on Katusha's time
A Lotto rider goes down, the next to last one, and his teammate nearly runs over him. It is not Evans, but Jurgen Van Den Broeck.
The Belgian does his best to catch up with his team, but they aren*t waiting for him, so it looks like he won't have much chance.
Quick-Step, wth Tom Boonen, is the next to go off.
Lampre approaches the finish line with five riders.
Lampre loses over two minutes, coming in with only five riders.
Lampre-NCG finish 2.01 down on Katusha
BBox Bouygues Telecom through third time check 3.00 down on Team Katusha
Cervelo, with Carlos Sastre, are having their turn now.
At the finish, Ballan shows off his ripped jersey and injuries from his early crash today.
The eight Lotto riders make their along, with a not-too-great time at the first time check.
The battered Bbox boys make their way to the finish line. They will be very happy to be finished!
Silence-Lotto go through first check 4th 48 seconds down on Caisse d'Epargne's early time
They have a really slow time, but they are all together, all nine of them.
Quick Step carefully takes the curve that has already claimed two victims.
Lotto drops another rider, Staf Scherlinckx.
BBox finish 3.18 down on Katusha at the finish
Milram is the next team, with Linus Gerdemann.
Ag2r approaches the finish line, with all nine riders.
Ag2r brings in a good time, finishing third behind Caisse d'Epargne and Katusha.
AG2R finish 25 seconds down on Katusha
Mechanical for Lotto, Van Summeren. Now they only have six.
Quick Step go through first check in 4th place 41 seconds down on Caisse d'Epargne
Remember that opening TTT at the Giro? It was about half the length of this one. Columbia won that, ahead of Garmin and Astana. Saxo Bank was 13th, some 55 seconds down.
The seven Lotto riders are going through a wooded, rolling section, working well together. They now come to the second time check.
Liquigas is the next to go, with Pellizotti, Bennati and Kreuziger.
Looks like Pacro Wrolich and Niki Terpstra of Milram have both gone down, although both are still with the team. The two have ripped and dirty skinsuits.
The debut team Skil Shimano comes to the finish line.
They are currently in seventh place, of seven teams.
Cervelo still has nine riders together.
Euskaltel is the next team. They are better known as climbers than as time trial specialists.
FDJ go through 3rd time check in 5th place, 1.19 down on Katusha's time
Lotto has seven riders because apparently they decided to wait for Van Summeren. He is an important mainstay on this time trial team.
Quick Step hits the second time check in sixth place.
Hey, we have a surprise for you today – a guest commentator! None other than Tom Danielson of Garmin-Slipstream. He'll be with us in a few minutes.
Wegmann of Milram has to drop off. That is a surprise, but then, he put in a lot of work yesterday for captain Gerdemann.
FDJ finish 1.23 down on Katusha's time
Lotto is working well together, but they have a certain amount of time to make up, if they don't want captain Evans to lose too much today.
Cervelo is fourth at the second time check.
The red-clad Cofidis riders are the next ones to take their chances on this challenging course.
Cervélo TestTeam go through the second check in 4th place
Only four teams to go: Garmin, Saxo Bank, Columbia and Astana.
Tom Danielson: Hi and it’s great to be here commentating on CN for such an exciting stage. It is a very difficult course today. The twisty, up and down roads, make it very challenging. Then throw in the wind and it’s crazy hard. It will not be just about pure horse power. A team that is very unified with great communication will win today. I think my favorites are Garmin, Columbia, and Astana.
Silence-Lotto have gone through the third check in 5th
Bingen Fernandez of Cofidis is the next victim at that curve! He didn't go down, but nearly so, and had to get off his bike and back on. A teammate waits and brings him back up.
Meanwhile, Milram's two crash victims, Wrolich and Terpstra have dropped off, leaving them with only six.
Cervelo has lost one, too, so they have eight.
Liquigas have gone through the first check in third
Danielson's team Garmin Slipstream will be on the course in a few minutes.
Milram have gone through the second check in fifth
Lotto approaches the finish line, with two rider taking off in front!
It was Evans and Sebastian Lang, but hey finally realized they needed at least three more with them. The team came in fifth.
Tom Danielson: A ton goes into TTT training. It is not like a normal time trial. When you are in the line it is all about concentration. You must feel the speed, stay as smooth and close the wheel in front of you, and communicate when needed with your teammates. You can see the Cofidis guys doing that now. When it is your turn to pull you must hold or try and raise the speed, but never surge. So as soon as the rider in front of you finishes his pull, you feel the speed, try and maintain this speed, and if you have something left, raise it a touch at the end of your pull. The teams that do that will come out with the best time. Katusha were really impressive this morning.
Silence-Lotto have finished fifth at this stage
Quick Step are fourth at the third time check
Saxo Bank prepares for its start.
Tom Danielson: You can see the Liquigas riders doing that now but their work still is not done. Now the riders must get back on to the train, which I think I one of the hardest parts. Before the Giro I was doing lots of TT training, focusing on these short bursts of speed. We did a few training sessions together to really get the feel of the team.
The eight Cervelo riders are picture perfect as they change lead and ride along smoothly. They have moved up to third place at the third time check.
Liquigas puts in a new best time at the first time check.
At the other end of the course, Quick Step must be nearing the finish line now.
And here comes the other Belgian team, with six riders!
Fifth place at the moment for Quick Step.
Saxo Bank is on the road, with eight black and white jerseys and one yellow jersey. Will Cancellara still be wearing the leader's jersey tomorrow?
Quick Step go through finish in 5th at this stage
Tom Danielson: My boys are off now and they look good. The tactics will be simply to focus on speed and being smooth. Easier said then done, but being smooth and focusing on speed rather than power will be the key.
Thomas Voeckler of Bbox says his team took that curve too fast. Just as he was thinking, oh oh, we might have a problem, he saw teammate William Bonet go down. The frenchman emphasized that he wasn't criticising the course though.
Cervelo comes to the finish.
No new best time, but a good one.
Columbia is the next to go. They will be looking for a very good time.
Cervelo TestTeam have finished as Columbia-HTC get set to go
Only one team left to go – Astana!
Tom Danielson: Riders like Wiggins, Millar, and Zabriskie will take longer pulls. If you are one of the stronger riders today it will be up to you to realize this and use it to benefit the team. That is spending more time on the front. Taking harder pulls will just destroy the team and they’ll end up actually slower in the end.
We’ve seen a lot of riders get dropped today. When a teammate is dropped basically communication is key. Usually the director will say something. Then it is up to the team to adapt to the new order. The last guy in line needs to let the rider that just pulled and dropping back to know he is last.
Tyler Farrar of Garmin can't keep up. The young sprinter is falling back.
Garmin-Slipstream have "slipped" into second at the first time check
Danny Pate is the next Garmin rider to have difficulties.
There are seven teams on the course, with one more still to start.
Dean has dropped from Garmin, too, and another one as well. They are already down to five. This is not good news for them.
Tom Danielson: Caisse impressed me the most so far. They have shown that they can work really well together as a team on such a difficult course.
Liquigas have topped their past two time checks
Astana takes to the road as the final team of the day.
Milram finishes in ninth place.
Tom Danielson: Yeah, there are only 5 riders now in the Garmin train. This will make it hard for them. I have never been dropped from a TTT, but I'm sure Tyler is unhappy as he is very good at this. Something must have happened. Now he must focus on making the time cut and get ready for tomorrow.
Milram go through the finish 1.26 down on Katusha's early time
Saxo Bank has only the fifth best time at the most recent time check.
Astana made it safely through that dangerous curve near the start.
Team Saxo Bank knocked Cervelo into 6th place at the first check
Contador takes a turn in the lead, very distinctive in his yellow and red Spanish champion's jersey.
Five Liquigas riders race to the finish looking for a new best time.
The Milram riders are complaining about the course, and asking if there are any teams who didn't have a crash on the course. Marcus Fothen went down on the last curve, which didn't help as they only had five riders for the last 5 km.
Liquigas finally knocked off Katusha's time
Saxo Bank wobbles its way through the curve that took down four Bbox riders, but ehy all stay upright.
They now have three riders a bit ahead of the others, so the leaders slow down a tad.
Tom Danielson: Lance is looking strong today. His Tour has been good so far. He really knows this race and he is showing that he is here to do his best. I think he will be there in contention in the end for the win.
Garmin-Slipstream are starting to get a roll on. First at the second check.
The five garmin riders are putting in an excellent time. They might put in the best time at the end, but they can't afford to lose any more riders.
Eisel has dropped off from Columbia.
Garmin has the best time at the first time check. Saxo Bank comes in with the third best time, so they have improved over the last few kms.
Tom Danielson: Today is so critical though for anyone who has aspirations of winning the race. You can lose two minutes easily on a day like today
Sixth place for Euskaltel, which just managed to make it with five over the finish line.
Rast has dropped off from Astana.
Tom Danielson: Ah, it’s great to see my teammates doing so well. It’s exciting they are leading and have 14 secs on Saxo Bank already.
Astana matched Garmin-Slipstream's effort at the first check
Only five teams still on the course: Cofidis, Garmin, Saxo Bank, Columbia and Astana.
Garmin has a 31 second lead at the third time check.
Astana is riding very smoothly and working well together.
Columbia is at the second time check, with fifth place, 26 seconds down.
Columbia-HTC go through the second check 5th
Garmin talked a lot about winning the TTT at the Giro and didn't win. They haven't talked at all about winning here, but have the best time....
Tom Danielson: Big pressure on Martijn right now with Garmin in the lead. He’ll be hanging on for dear life right now.
Cofidis comes across the line with all nine riders, it looks like, in 12th place.
Some major wobbles for Saxo Bank but no one went down.
Euskatel finished 1.11 down on Liquigas. The Orange clad team is bound to move from their current position (6th), still, an impressive performance from the Basque team
2 km to go for Garmin, who will bring in a new best time – perhaps the winning time?
Cofidis have finished in 49.28
Muravyev has now dropped back from Astana. Again, the leading rider puts into fast a turn and puts a small break in the team. But they get back together.
Astana at the second time check with a new best time.
And a new best time at the finish for Garmin!
Astana really blasted the best time at the time check, they were leading by 23 seconds. Looks like Armstrong will be putting on yellow tonight!
Saxo Bank will be the next to cross the finish line.
Garmin did a good job with 5 riders for most of the TTT
Saxo Bank still has two km to go.
And O'Grady has to let them go.
Saxo have had a better second half on the stage
Columbia fourth, 40 seconds down, at the last intermediate check.
Caisse d'Epargne is starting to slip off the later time checks
Seven Saxo Bank riders appraoch the finish line!
Six of them cross together and take the second best time.
Tom Danielson: Wow. Astana are on fire!
Saxo finished 40 seconds down on Garmin's time
Only Columbia and Astana still to go!
10 km for Armstrong and Astana.
And three km for Columbia, which now has seven riders.
This Astana team time trial is truly a thing of beauty.
They have a 17 second lead at the last intermediate time check.
Tom Danielson: Lance could be in yellow by the end of today. That would be huge! Its only stage 4 and this race has already provided so much excitement!
Astana have were fastest at the 2nd and 3rd time checks
Columbia comes to the finish.
Cavendish leads the team over the finish line in fourth place.
Five km for Astana.
Tom Danielson: Astana really has to dig now. They can achieve three big things today. Stage win, Contador taking more big time on his rivals, and Lance in yellow. They have got to have huge motivation.
One team to finish: Astana
Armstrong takes a turn at the front.
Armstrong up out of the saddle at the back of the pack.
Popovych has to let the others go. 2 km to go.
A series of curves now for the team.
And the six riders hit the last km.
They cross the finish line in a time of 46:28, 17 seconds faster than Garmin.
Astana wins the stage, but who takes the yellow jersey?
All twenty teams have finished
Astana finished exactly 40 seconds ahead of Saxo Bank. Armstrong was exactly 40 seconds behind Cancellara...
Cancellara holds on to the yellow jersey by a few-hundredths of a second ahead over Armstrong. Places two through five all belong to Astana riders now.
Cancellara just clung on to that yellow jersey
What an exciting stage! The Team Time Trial is always good for a dramatic show.
Thanks for reading along with us. Join us again tomorrow as the fun and games continue.
What a return to the TTT at the Tour de France!