If you watch the Tour de France everyday hoping for drama then the last few stages have been extraordinary. On a very difficult 25-mile time trial course around Montpellier, Lance Armstrong came within an eyelash of putting on the yellow jersey for the first time in almost four years. It would have been an incredible step in his comeback, but the Fabian Cancellara-led Team Saxo Bank did just what it needed to retain the maillot jaune.
By just, I mean literally less than one second. It was oh-so-close for a storybook ending to a day which saw the American Garmin-Slipstream team put in a valiant effort which almost won the day. They finished only 18 seconds back of stage victors Team Astana after 47 minutes on course. It is not a coveted stage win, but the boys in argyle should be proud of almost toppling arguably the best team in the sport. Garmin-Slipstream have clearly proven that they deserve to be a Pro Tour team in only their first year at that elitest of levels.
The TT course was far from the usual flat and fast affair. Small roads, sharp climbs and a punishing wind made this one of the sternest tests for a team the Tour has seen in years. I was fortunate to ride with Garmin-Slipstream team during their warm-up lap this morning (hint: it wasn't a warm-up for me) and I was impressed by how difficult and technical the course was. Look for a report including on-the-bike photos, in an upcoming blog. I am still recovering. It may take years.
Garmin's power guru Dr. Allen Lim described the team's game plan. "Stay careful. I think it is a dangerous, dangerous course. I think the guys have to be conscious of one another and not take any risks. Normally it is full throttle. Now it is full throttle plus a high sense of awareness of one and other and careful through the corners. Some places we are going to have to be conservative and then try to make it up elsewhere. Through the very fast techinical sections there will be very few changes at the front."
After the race, Lance spoke with Gerard Holtz on Antenne 2. When asked to describe the TTT course his only response was 'tricky'. He admitted that he was a bit disappointed not to get the yellow jersey. Hollywood actor Ben Stiller appeared on stage and took full responsibility for losing the jersey by less than one second. He was certain that Lance had looked back just before the finish to see if he was watching. Ben went on to present the yellow jersey to Fabian Cancellara.
Just before Astana took the start ramp, Lance shook Conador's hand. Alberto responded as we see in this photo as the two teammates realized that they would need to work together to beat the other squads.
Team Garmin-Slipstream heads down the start ramp.
Just before Team Columbia-HCT started down the ramp, Mark Cavendish and George Hincapie shared a fist bump.
He almost took the yellow jersey.