Lance Armstrong earned his Tour de France stage win on Saturday, beating his nearest rival in the individual time trial by 23 seconds.
The victory in Saint Etienne means he'll go to Paris in yellow on Sunday without the stigma of being the first Tour de France winner without a stage win since Greg Lemond in 1990.
Another big winner over the 32-mile course was T-Mobile's Jan Ullrich, who set the second fastest time but most importantly gained a 3rd place podium position by beating Mickael Rasmussen.
Team CSC's Ivan Basso held onto second place overall and finished fifth in the time trial. Basso set the leading mark on the first time check, but lost ground as the course became hillier and the turns tighter.
While Armstrong and Ullrich celebrated their victories, Rasmussen was still suffering through arguably his worse day of the Tour, maybe his pro career. The Danish rider on Rabobank suffered two crashes — one when his bike skid out from under him on a traffic circle at the beginning of the ride and another when he flew head over heels into a ditch on a downhill portion of the course. He also had to stop for 3 or 4 bike changes due to mechanical problems.
The King of the Mountains can't use those mishaps as an excuse for his losses, though. Ullrich was already gaining on him before his first crash. At the end of the day, Rasmussen had fallen from 3rd place all the way down to 7th.
Maybe Rasmussen should visit the US to work on time trialing in the off-season. The Tour de France 2005 blog points out, “The top 10 is a good demonstrator of US power in the sport.” Armstrong came in 1st, Bobby Julich (CSC) came in 4th, FLoyd Lands (Phonak) arrived at 6th, and George Hincapie (Discovery) finished in 8th.
Armstrong rode his special time trial bike, a Trek TTX, in Saturday's stage. Absent was a disc-wheel on the back, which may have given him a little more maneuverability on the technical parts of this year's route. Read more about the Trek TTX at CycleLab.
Quoted in VeloNews, Armstrong sounds like he wasn't sure he could pull off his victory today:
“Quite honestly, I wasn't absolutely sure I could do it,” Armstrong said after the stage. “I thought Jan would be strong, and then when I got to the first check I saw that Ivan was seven seconds up and I thought, 'Oh boy, this could be an interesting day.'”
In his online “diary,” Ullrich wrote that he was disappointed not to be wearing the yellow, but glad to finish in 3rd.
”Just getting to Paris and standing on the podium, is something special after the crashes I suffered. Even without crashing, I still don't think I could have beaten Lance. He is simply too strong and you have to give him credit for that. ”
Understandably, Rasmussen had nothing to say after his ride.
The time trial shook up the top overall standings, which includes three Americans in the top 10 — Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, and Floyd Landis. Here are the top 10 going into Paris:
Lance Armstrong (1, Discovery)
Ivan Basso (2, CSC) 4:40 behind;
Jan Ullrich (3, T-Mobile) 6:21 behind;
Francisco Mancebo (4, Illes Balears) 9:59 behind;
Levi Leipheimer (5, Gerolsteiner) 11:25 behind;
Alexandre Vinokourov (6, T-Mobile) 11:27 behind;
Mickael Rasmussen (7, Rabobank) 11:33 behind;
Cadel Evans (8, Davitamon.Lotto) 11:55 behind;
Floyd Landis (9, Phonak) 12:44 behind, and;
Oscar Pereiro (10, Phonak) 16:04 behind.
The 20th stage of the Tour de France on Saturday was a 32-mile individual time trial around Saint Etienne, a town honored nearly every year with a stage on the Tour de France.
Before the cyclists began leaving the starting gate every three minutes Saturday morning, this time trial was critical for three riders:
1. Lance Armstrong: Sitting 2 minutes and 46 seconds ahead of closest rival Ivan Basso, Armstrong all but had his 7th Tour de France championship in the bag. The one thing he hadn't achieved this year, though, was an individual stage win.
The last cyclist to win a Tour de France without a stage win was American Greg Lemond in 1990, and many doubt he wants to end his last Tour without a stage win. By the way, he's won every final time trial except the one in 2003.
2. Jan Ullrich: The 1997 Tour de France winner sat in 4th place. He didn't need to win the time trial, he needed to ride 2 minutes and 12 seconds faster than Mickael Rasmussen, the King of the Mountains, who sat in 3rd place. Ullrich, in 4th, wanted to beat Rasmussen to get onto the podium in Paris and to prove to T-Mobile that he's still up to being team leader next year — when Armstrong won't stand in his way for a yellow jersey.
He received further inspiration when Armstrong told CyclingNews a couple of days ago that he predicts himself, Basso, and Ullrich on the podium in Paris.
3. Mickael Rasmussen: This rider on Rabobank doesn't carry any extra weight. His goal had been to win a Tour de France stage — he won Stage 9. He wanted to win the King of the Mountains jersey — he gained it on Stage 8. Saturday he was trying to protect his podium position in Paris, and he's hung onto 3rd place for the past 5 stages. He just needed to not give up 2 minutes and 12 seconds to Ullrich.
He knew that would be difficult. Rasmussen finished in 174th place in the individual time trial the first day.