Stage 1: Fromentine - Noirmoutier-en-l'Ile ITT
Armstrong powerful as runner-up; Ullrich loses time already
As he sat in the CSC team bus undoubtedly cracking his usual goofy jokes, 26 year old American David Zabriskie was sitting on the bubble, the biggest bubble of his life, as the maillot jaune of the Tour de France was at stake. Zabriskie, a lanky rider from Salt Lake City, who has a unique sense of humour according to his CSC team leader Bjarne Riis, nervously watched as rider after rider hurled themselves along the flat windy roads through the potato fields of the Ile de Noirmoutier, trying to knock DaveZ out of his hot seat. Finally it was time for the biggest gun of all to fire, six time Tour champion and Zabriskie's former US Postal teammate Lance Armstrong.
At the intermediate time check, Armstrong was just 0'03 behind Zabriskie and closing on his main Tour rival Jan Ullrich like a runaway freight train. Surely Lance would beat DaveZ, but in the end, the CSC rider's bubble didn't burst and Zabriskie took the first maillot jaune at the 92nd Tour De France.
To beat Armstrong, Zabriskie rode the fastest TT in Tour De France history at an incredible average speed of 54.676 km/h, breaking Greg LeMond's 16 year old record (54.454 km/h in the final stage in 1989). Now the fifth North American to wear the Tour de France maillot jaune after LeMond, Bauer, Stieda and Armstrong, an incredulous Zabriskie said post-stage, "It's amazing, unbelievable...I have no idea how long I can keep (maillot jaune). I was really nervous when I was watching Lance Armstrong on TV; I didn't think I could win but it feels great...it's an amazing accomplishment for me; I never, ever expected this to happen. It's turning out well for me."
Zabriskie's win is the perfect Tour scenario for Bjarne Riis's plan, as his CSC squad put three riders in the top 11 (Voigt 8th, Julich 11th) and now leads Team GC by 0'04 (over Discovery Channel), putting them in the perfect place to ride last in the Tuesday's Stage 4 Team Time Trial. CSC director sportif Alain Gallopin explained, "We wanted Dave to start early and put up a good time, so now we'll discuss with Bjarne Riis tomorrow what we will do to defend the maillot jaune."
In the defining moment of today's stage, a fast pedaling Lance Armstrong caught and passed his somewhat damaged and bandaged minute man and chief Tour rival Jan Ullrich, showing that Armstrong is a favourite to win his seventh consecutive Tour de France.
But when he crossed the finish like in Noirmoutier-en-l'Ile, Armstrong realized that Zabriskie had beat him by just 0'02. The tough Texan chucked his helmet down hard after the stage finish, but once he had cooled off, Armstrong realized that his ride today was still an excellent result. Also, the pressure is now off Discovery to protect the leader's jersey.
After the stage, Armstrong told French TV, "I've already said that I want to have fun at this Tour. Today I started slowly and then got my rhythm going. When I got to the (intermediate time check), I realized I was catching Ullrich and told myself, 'It's not going bad today' so I gave it my maximum. So when I saw him in front of me today I knew that nobody else had that kind of advantage, having his rival right there in front of him."
"Of course that's good and helpful when you can chase somebody down, it's very motivating. I didn't get the maillot jaune today, but we'll see in two or three days. But Jan crashed yesterday in training and it's not normal to have good legs after that. But my legs were good..."
Finishing the 19km test in 12th place, 1'08 behind Zabriskie, Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) had already lost 1'06 to Armstrong. After yesterday's training ride crash into the back of the T-Mobile team car, Ullrich seemed laboured as he never seemed to get his rhythm going today. Ulle told German TV post stage, "I went flat out, I gave all I had. Of course I'm not satisfied with the fact that Lance caught me. I don't know if it had anything to do with my crash yesterday. I did lose some blood, but I didn't have the feeling of being so bad [on the road], so I'll continue fighting. It's not my lucky day getting caught by Lance. I would have liked to have ridden better, and gave it all - it wasn't a nice feeling when he passed me. I'm down over it at the moment, but the Tour lasts three weeks. We'll see what's in it in time."
Ullrich's T-Mobile teammate Alex Vinokourov said post-stage, "I'm tres content about the way things went today; I knew I might lose time from a real specialist like Zabriskie...I felt great today and know it's a good result."
In last year's Vuelta a España, Zabriskie won two stages; the León-León TTT and after a gutsy solo break of 162km, Stage 11 from San Vicente del Raspeig to Caravaca de la Cruz, then finished 5th in the World TT championships in Italy. Seen as a big TT talent as an U23 rider, DaveZ won the U23 GP des Nations in 2001 as Armstrong was winning the elite GP des Nations. But a terrible crash in May 2003, where Zabriskie broke his left arm and leg when an SUV pulled out in front of him during a training ride in Salt Lake City was a big setback in his career. "That's maybe why you didn't hear so much from me", Zabriskie modestly told the media today.
DaveZ battled back from his injuries through 2003, but another crash in March 2004 at Redlands was yet another setback for Zabriskie. But the gutsy Zabriskie he came back to win the US National TT championship in June and then closed the season on a positive note as he moved to Bjarne Riis's CSC team. After integrating well into the CSC squad, Zabriskie won his Giro TT, then had the biggest day of his life today.
Zabriskie's Girona, Spain roommate Floyd Landis (Phonak) had a superb ride today for 6th, 1'02 behind DaveZ and staking a strong claim as Phonak team leader, while his teammate Santi Botero went slower than expected to finish 25th. Just behind Landis at 1'02 was Swiss TT champ and last year's Tour prologue winner Fabian Cancellara in 7th, and the Fassa Bortolo man once again donned the maillot blanc of Best Young Rider. Cance told Cyclingnews post-stage that, "It will be hard, but it's possible to change this jersey tomorrow and get the yellow jersey from Zabriskie."
Major disappointment today from Ivan Basso (CSC) and the two Aussie hopes, Brad McGee (Francaise des Jeux) and World Champion Mick Rogers (Quick.Step) was 45th, 1'53 behind maillot jaune Zabriskie. "I just couldn't find the right rhythm today...I tried to push hard, but just couldn't go", said a disappointed Rogers post-stage. McGee was a pre-race favourite and finished a respectable 18th, just ahead of a surprisingly slow Ivan Basso (CSC), both riders losing over a minute to Lance Armstrong.
How it unfolded
For the third time in the last dozen years, "Le Grand Depart" of the Tour commenced in the Vendee region of western France, this time from the tiny village of Fromentine at the base of the peninsula called l'Ile de Noirmoutier. Starting just two minutes before 4 in the afternoon, American David Zabriskie (CSC) set the fastest intermediate time early on. Winner of the 45km Stage 8 TT in the Giro d'Italia in May, Zabriskie powered across the flat potato fields of the Ile de Noirmoutier and at the 10km intermediate time check along the narrow neck of the peninsula on the D.38 road, DaveZ came through 0'27 ahead of previous fast man, Tour of Luxembourg winner Laszlo Bodrogi (Credit Agricole).
The CSC man continued his most excellent ride over the next 9km and at the finish in Noirmoutier-en-l'Ile, his time of 20'51 looked to be solid. Over the next hour and a half, big name riders like Popovych (Discovery), Gonzalez de Galdeano (Liberty Seguros), his CSC teammate Voigt, and finally Vinokourov (T-Mobile) came through to try and knock Zabriskie out of the hot seat. Vinokourov came the closest to DaveZ at 21'44, but was 0'53 behind in second when the dust settled.
The enigmatic rider from Salt Lake City had showed once again just how talented he is by riding the flat parcours almost 3 seconds faster per kilometre than the T-Mobile rider, but the big guns had still yet to fire at the CSC rider's time. Although the wind had picked up slightly as the afternoon continued since Zabriskie started, the velocity of 10-15 km/h from the southwest was relatively stable all day.
World TT Champ Mick Rogers (Quick.Step) was the first rider that posed a real threat to Zabriskie, and at the 10km intermediate time check, the rainbow jersey clad Aussie could only muster an 11'08, almost a minute behind Zabriskie, eventually finishing only 45th. Four other Americans came in around 22 minutes: Bobby Julich (CSC) in 21'58, Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) just over in 22'04, Floyd Landis (Phonak) in 21'53, and 2005 Dauphine' Libéré' prologue winner George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) pounded through the finish in 21'48, just behind Vino.
Once again, Lance Armstrong decided to not wear the maillot jaune as defending Tour De France champion and as the six time tour champ exited the start house, his right foot slipped and the Texan almost crashed, but quickly recovered and got up to speed fast. Armstrong immediately started to take back time on Ullrich and with 4.1km to go just after the Rond point de l'Europe, Lance powered past the labouring German and headed home. But DaveZ was having the best day of his cycling life and his record setting time was just enough to hold off Armstrong and deny the Discovery Channel yet another maillot jaune. But for how long?
Stage 2 - July 3: Challans-Les Essarts, 181.5km
Six years ago, Jan Kirsipuu took a stage win in Challans, the capital of the Breton-Vendée Marais will host the first "en-ligne" stage start of the 92nd Tour De France. The route twists and turns through the Vendée boondocks to fortress town Les Essarts, where Aussie sprinter Robbie McEwen will show he's the fast man for the 2005 Tour.
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