U.S. Postal wins Tour time trial, claims yellow jerseyPosted: Wednesday July 09, 2003 11:09 AM
Updated: Wednesday July 09, 2003 1:16 PM
SAINT-DIZIER, France (AP) -- Working like a well-oiled machine, Lance Armstrong and his U.S. Postal Service squad won their first ever team time trial at the Tour de France on Wednesday -- a major boost in his drive for five straight Tour titles.
The win set Armstrong up nicely up for punishing mountain stages that start Saturday in the Alps, giving him a cushion of time over key rivals.
The four-time Tour champion had never before won the technical and demanding team time trial, where squads race against the clock. In 2002, his Postals placed 2nd, 16 seconds behind the ONCE team.
"Last year, and in previous years, we didn't win the time trial, and it was a really unhappy feeling at the dinner table. We were asking ourselves why we couldn't do it, so this time we just said, `Come on, let's do it, we've got to do this,"' the 31-year-old Texan said.
"I think it will be a happy dinner table tonight."
The race, run in hot, sunny weather over 69 kilometers (42.8 miles) and finishing in the town of Saint-Dizier, was a key target of the Postals in this first week of the grueling three-week Tour.
Wearing tear drop-shaped helmets and riding aerodynamic bikes to go faster, the Postals won in 1 hour, 18 minutes and 27 seconds. It was their first win on this Tour, where Armstrong is aiming to equal Spanish great Miguel Indurain's record of five successive wins.
Armstrong's teammate, Victor Hugo Pena, took the yellow jersey awarded to the Tour leader. The former national champion swimmer was the first Colombian to wear the jersey in the showcase event's 100-year history. (Colombia conquers Europe at last)
"Sure, I'll be the one wearing the yellow jersey, but this is a victory for the team -- it's one of the best teams that's ever existed in the world," said Pena, who turns 29 on Thursday.
"This is simply the proof that when he wants to be, Armstrong can also be the best teammate in the world," Pena said.
The Postals' won with a 30-second margin over the second-placed ONCE team and a 43-second gap over the Bianchi team. Both squads have riders who are potential rivals to Armstrong's bid for a fifth win.
After the time trial, 1997 Tour winner and potential challenger Jan Ullrich of Bianchi was 12th overall, 38 seconds behind Armstrong.
Two other key rivals, ONCE's Joseba Beloki and Telekom's Santiago Botero, were 9th and 29th overall. Beloki was just 32 seconds behind Armstrong, but Botero was 1 minute and 32 seconds behind.
In the time trial, individual racers get their team's time. It's a big disadvantage for racers with weak squads.
"It counts for individual time," said Armstrong. "It's either a gift or a curse, as I always say. I'll take the gift."
Despite Armstrong's successes at the Tour, the Postals' previous failure to win the team event was a blemish on their record.
"I'd never won this discipline before," said Armstrong, who came back from cancer to take his first Tour in 1999.
"It was quite a hard course, with the wind -- lots of wind," he said. "It's a very, very hard discipline."
"Today is a great day for us," added his American teammate, George Hincapie.
"It took us four years to win," he said. "We're very, very happy."