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95th Tour de France - GT

France, July 5-27, 2008

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Stage 4 - Tuesday, July 8: Cholet - Cholet (ITT), 29.5km

Complete live report

The first time trial of this year's Tour comes earlier than usual, perhaps because of the absence of a prologue. The stage is also just over half the distance as usual, being just 29-kilometre in length. The stage route, as well as being short, is very flat so – weather permitting – speeds should be high. The stage should appeal to the specialists, but gaps should be small so none of the favourites for the overall classification will be able to take too much time out of their rivals.

The Tour has visited Cholet just twice before, the last time when Dutchman Jeroen Bliijlevens (TVM) out-sprinted Italian Nicola Minali (Riso Scotti) and Ján Svorada (Mapei-Bricobi). By picking up time bonuses throughout the stage, Australian Stuart O'Grady (then GAN, now CSC) took the first maillot jaune of his career. The town sits on the banks of the Moine river and is most famous for the production of linen fabrics.

12:55 CEST   
Welcome back to Le Tour stage four, the first individual time trial of the race. Today will have the overall favourites come out of their hiding spots in the bunch and show their current form. With only 29.5km to cover, however, time gaps won't be huge, but the race against the clock will definitely give us an indication of who's hot... and who might be not.

13:07 CEST   
The first rider on the course this morning was Wim Vansevenant (Silence-Lotto). As last rider on GC, he had the honour to inaugurate the parcours at 11.02am.

Good news for all the Colombians out there: Barloworld's Mauricio Soler has decided to give it another shot, despite the fact that he got some more x-rays last night which revealed a fracture of one small bone in his right hand. He will thus continue the race and hopefully feel better once we arrive in the mountains.

13:11 CEST   
Race conditions are currently overcast. There is a breeze blowing from the south west at about 25 km/h and the temperature is around 20 degrees Celsius. A few drops of rain keep falling now and again, but the roads are still essentially dry, as the sun also comes out of the clouds every now and then.

At the moment, just over 60 riders have already started or finished the time trial. The best time is currently clocked by Stef Clément (Bouygues Telecom), who with 37'18 is eight seconds faster than Christophe Riblon (AG2R).

13:17 CEST   
There are two intermediate time checks on the course. The first is at Saint-Andre de la Marche (at the 11km mark), the second is at Les Vignes (19.5km).

The wind will be playing a major role on the stage today. On the first part of the time trial, it's a headwind. But with about 10 kilometres to go, the course changes direction back to Cholet, and the wind becomes a tailwind. This will have a major impact on the speeds of the riders, who will choose their gears carefully.

13:20 CEST   
Magnus Backstedt (Garmin) is currently ranked fifth with a time of 37'39.

Magnus Backstedt is already done for the day, currently ranked fifth
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

13:21 CEST   
Today is the 52nd birthday of the manager of Bouygues Telecom, Jean-Rene Bernaudeau. The Frenchman was the winner of the youth classification in the 1979 Tour de France. His son, Giovanni, is part of his team’s roster but is not competing in the Tour.

Paolo Tiralongo of the Lampre team is also celebrating today, he is 31.

13:28 CEST   
Fabian Wegmann is on his way. He likes to wear his German Champ jersey (now for the second year running) so his girlfriend can recognise him better on TV. In time trials that is not necessary, which is why he didn't become champion in that discipline. He wears his regular Gerolsteiner outfit. The other time he is not visible in his distinct white jersey is when he the weather is bad and it is rain coat time. We don't know if he protects himself from the rain or the white jersey from becoming dirty. Maybe both!

13:31 CEST   
The German time trial champion is Bert Grabsch, but the Columbia rider is not in the Tour this year. His brother Ralf, riding for Milram, started at 12:58. We expect him at the finish in a few minutes.

13:34 CEST   
Jonathan Vaughters, the DS for Garmin Chipotle - H30, has two hot irons in the fire: David Millar and Christian Vande Velde. Or are there even others? Vaughters told Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes that "[Today] is a big day for us, for sure. I think it has yet to be determined... we are a new team, we have got five riders who have never ridden the Tour before. I don't know what will happen - heck, Danny Pate could end up going faster than David tomorrow. We don't know."

13:35 CEST   
And as we say this, Danny Pate sets a new best time! He clocks in with a 36'54!

13:36 CEST   
Pate was not in the top five at check one, but two seconds faster than Bertogliati at the second check and smashed Clement's time by 24 seconds!

13:39 CEST   
Vaughters also said, "Of course, we came into the race with the thought that if David could get a little bit of time on Cancellara, which he has, that we could go into the time trial with the possibility of getting the yellow jersey. And even if he didn't get it tomorrow, you have the stage six hilltop finish to Super Besse. In my opinion, and we will have to see how David is climbing on the day because he is a little bit inconsistent in his climbing, but on his day he will be able to stay in the first group there, the first 15 or 20 guys, whereas I don't think Cancellara could.

So I think he has got two shots at the jersey, one is in the time trial and the other is at Super Besse. And Christian, the same thing - I think he has got two shots, one in the time trial, and maybe even a better shot on Super Besse.

13:42 CEST   
Vande Velde will start at 16:08, Millar at 16:42. Both are likely to be a bit nervous now, which is perfectly normal a few hours before a race. And it is not necessarily bad, as it brings the riders into the right state of mind - be focused on the task at hand. On the other hand, you don't want to be so nervous that your wobbly, shaking legs can't push the pedals. But both are experienced riders and know how to handle the stress. Three more hours to wait for them!

Stef Clement is a good time trialer
Photo ©: Cyclingnews.com
(Click for larger image)

13:49 CEST   
Pate is currently 24 seconds ahead of Clement. Clement is a very good time trial, so Pate has a good chance of staying close to the top. Clement finished third in last year's World Championships in Salzburg, behind Fabian Cancellara. The Swiss is a favourite for today. The organisers will let him loose at 15:50.

14:03 CEST   
Romain Feillu, who wears the yellow jersey since last night (as he possibly slept with it, speculated L'Equipe), will be taking on the course last, at 4.56pm. He hopes to be able to defend his overall lead against the likes of Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), 1'45 minutes back, and David Millar (Garmin), Cadel Evans (Silence), who are both 1'46 minutes adrift. George Hincapie (Columbia) is 1'52 behind. Ans so is time trial world champ Fabian Cancellara (CSC) - the young Frenchman will have a tough time against the Swiss, that's for sure.

14:09 CEST   
We just hit our calculators and found out that Pate's average speed was 48 km/h! We wonder what a powerhouse like Cancellara will be able to do today.

Columbia's Mark Cavendish is next on the start ramp. The Manxman missed out on a bunch sprint finish yesterday... too bad the windy weather, the determined break and the speculating peloton ruined Cav's chances. Then again, it was good to see that - very rarely - breakaways even on pancake-flat courses can actually go through.

14:21 CEST   
At the moment, the roads are dry and the sun has gotten the better of the clouds. Many spectators line the course amidst the French wheat fields and cheer the riders on.

14:26 CEST   
Cyril Dessel (AG2R La Mondiale) has just rolled out. The Frenchman wore the yellow jersey two years ago, but was taken down by toxoplasmosis last year. He hopes for another moment of glory on the Tour now that he's healthy again. Dessel won a stage in the Volta a Catalunya and in the Dauphiné Libéré recently.

14:32 CEST   
Samuel Dumoulin, who won the stage yesterday, just came in in 76th place. He's not a rouleur in the first place, and after those efforts in the break yesterday, we didn't expect him to achieve any miracles today. In any case, he's already achieved what he came here for...

14:36 CEST   
Polkadot jersey Thomas Voeckler comes into the finish after 36'37 minutes, 28th at the moment, while Mark Cavendish gets to the second intermediate time check: 27'40 minutes.

14:43 CEST   
Robert Förster (Gerolsteiner) just took on the race against the clock, as French TT champ Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) gets himself in racing mode on the ramp. It's always impressive to see the riders concentrate before taking the start. Behind the start ramp, in a fenced-in stretch of road, they ride in circles as if in a cage, waiting to be let loose. As a journalist, even if you have access to that area, they seldom want to speak at that moment.

14:48 CEST   
Dessel digs in deep on a climb, shoulders and head swaying to the sides with every pedalstroke. Campervans are parked along the road and the crowd is huge.

Stuart O'Grady is now underway, too!

14:55 CEST   
The sky is getting darker again. Let's hope the riders and the road stay dry. There are not many corners to tackle on the course - where you'd have to brake - but they could still prove fatal to some. In any case, if it starts raining, it would have an impact on the riders' results.

14:56 CEST   
Stijn Devolder is currently warming up. He has been sick the last few days and had a slight fever. His DS Dirk Demol told Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé that "Stijn did a good job to control the damage in the last few days." He will continue to try limit his losses for now and hope he can recover before the mountains.

Robbie McEwen has just hit the road.

14:59 CEST   
Chavanel lost only 6 seconds to Bertogliati at the first intermediate time check. If he maintains this rhythm, he could ha a shot at the next best time.

15:02 CEST   
Markus Fothen (Gerolsteiner) is off. He sprints out of the saddle for a 200 metres, then adjusts his gear and gets into aero position on his TT handlebars.

15:07 CEST   
The weather looks stable for now. We can't promise anything, though. The wind is still blowing from the front on the first part of the parcours, while it's a tailwind for the return to Cholet. Incoming riders all agree that it's hillier than they thought, especially on the first part. The final 10 kilometres are straighter, and with the tailwind, really fast.

Jens Voigt(CSC) takes a few deep breaths before being sent off on the course.

15:10 CEST   
French TT champ Chavanel clocks a new best time at the second check: 25'39. Still, for the moment, Danny Pate remains atop the leader's board. He is sort of a 'domestique' for David Millar today, trying to give info for the course.

Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown talked to Pate after his stellar ride. The US American said that "I was working with David since the Giro. We went to a training camp in St. Moritz [in altitude]. Afterwards, we went to another training camp northwest of Gerona. David is very focused. He is a bit nervous [as Cyclingnews suspected] but he is handling it well. My aim today was to help out David. It is better to have a time trialer than a climber to help David and Christian [Vande Velde]. It'd be good if I could get a top five."

But this wasn't the main objective. "David can get yellow if he can get a few seconds on Cancellara." A yellow jersey would be great for the Garmin team in its first Tour de France.

15:16 CEST   
A few drops are coming down now. O'Grady comes through the second time check after 27'40 minutes.

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) has left the starting block. He lost almost 40 seconds on the other overall contenders yesterday - precious time that will be hard to get back.

15:20 CEST   
The roads keep dry, though, it's just a few drops.

Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval - Scott) will be the next rider to start. Either you love or you hate him... The Italian has his own style and will do anything for a good controversy.

And Chavanel comes into the finish... 36.52! Two seconds faster than Pate!

15:29 CEST   
But Jens Voigt is also having a good day today, clocking 14'09 at the first time check!! 27 seconds faster than Chavanel at this point. The German from Berlin could well be out for another best time...

Australian Simon Gerrans (Crédit Agricole) is now getting ready on the ramp.

15:31 CEST   
Voigt now passes Julian Dean (Garmin), a fierce, masochistic grin on his face. The German's absolutely flying!

15:32 CEST   
Just to answer a reader's question: It was Sylvain Chavanel, the French TT champion, who posted the best time. His brother Sébastien, who rides for FdJ, posted a 40'21.

15:34 CEST   
Riccardo Riccò, who started a few minutes ago, was spotted by Cyclingnews earlier as he was preparing his muscles to race. Saunier Duval-Scott is the only team that has not a team bus but a monster truck. It allows the riders to warm up on a platform atop the bus, some two metres above the ground. It also allows the riders to warm up without getting disturbed by the public or sharing their pre-race thoughts with the media - hence we cannot tell you how the young Italian feels.

15:37 CEST   
Voigt now has more than 30 seconds on Chavanel. Will he be able to hold his speed until the finish? He started strongly, and could pay for his efforts in the end. Then again, we know how well he can handle the pain.

15:39 CEST   
Now, the race is really starting to get interesting. Menchov comes into the second time check: 25'11, second behind Voigt...

15:43 CEST   
Voigt finishes his ride... In pain, and stomping. But his efforts pay off: 36'19!! We have a new man on the "hot chair"!

30k is a good distance for Voigt, but can he hold on against the TT favourites?
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

15:44 CEST   
Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) is also out on the course. His pedaling looks very smooth compared to Voigt. But is it as effective? It's amazing how his upper body is completely stiff. Not moving at all - he looks like a machine.

15:49 CEST   
World Champ Fabian Cancellara (CSC) is riding up and down behind the start ramp now. Damiano Cunego (Lampre) just started before him. By many, the Swiss is expected to win here...

15:51 CEST   
And Menchov sets another best time, as Cancellara takes on the race. The Rabobank rider clocked 36'18, one tiny second faster than Voigt!

15:57 CEST   
Cunego's position is far from being aerodynamic. His shoulders remain quite high compared to other riders, whose handlebars are extremely low. In this position, even if his power output is good, he will be held back by the wind.

16:00 CEST   
Young Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) is doing well: 25'25 at the first intermediate time check. The Italian is rated as a huge talent.

Ricco gets into the finish and sprints... but he is three minutes back on Menchov already. He will lose a lot of time against the favourites today. But then again, does he care? The Italian said he came to the Tour for a stage win, not for the overall classification.

16:05 CEST   
Lang now shows the first signs of exhaustion. Shoulders still completely blocked. He's 40 seconds back on Menchov, though, so his time trial style might look perfect, but in fact it's not.

Cancellara's hips follow the movement of his pedaling - he comes through the first check: 14'11. Two seconds slower than Voigt! The Swiss has his back number - 13 - pinned upside down on his jersey for better luck...

16:09 CEST   
José Ivan Gutierrez comes into the finish, after almost touching wheels with Simon Gerrans as he passed him on the finishing straight. The Australian hadn't heard him coming and moved towards the barriers. The Caisse d'Epargne rider clocks 36'43.

And Nibali comes in third in Cholet (36'31) - that's a very impressive performance.

16:14 CEST   
Cancellara is powering up a climb in front of a huge crowd. He's reached a plateau now and gets out of the saddle, again. Let's see if he can improve his rhythm towards the finish - Menchov and Voigt are still to be beaten.

16:18 CEST   
But 'Spartacus' clocks only 25'12 at the second time check, third behind Voigt and Menchov at that point! What a surprise... Still, we can imagine that the Swiss will strike back on the last ten kilometres, when the wind and the profile is more favourable. We heard that he has put on a 54 chain ring, which would have made it more difficult for him on the first part of the parcours, with the headwind.

16:20 CEST   
Cancellara is now on his way back to Cholet, while George Hincapie (Columbia) takes off.

Five kilometres to go for Cance.

16:23 CEST   
U23 World time trial champion Lars Boom talked to Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé before the start. Boom is not riding in this year's Tour, but was visiting to see what the riders are doing in his 'specialty.' Well, we are not sure what his specialty is, since has also won the cyclo-cross World Championships in the past...

16:29 CEST   
Cunego finally doesn't lose that much time at all: 37'10...

While 'Spartacus' comes in, too, and sets a new best: 36'17!! But only one tiny second faster than Menchov. Cancellara was not his usual self today, he lacked that supremacy that made him TT World Champ twice. The course, finally, is not as easy as thought, and the wind makes it even harder to tackle.

16:35 CEST   
A quick note from another race: Ina-Yoko Teutenberg of Team Columbia continues to dominate the Giro Donne. She won her third stage in a row today!!! Teutenberg bested Monica Holler in the stage from S. M. Maddalena Occhiobello to Altedo Malalbergo. She still leads the GC, 17 seconds ahead of Kirsten Wild.

16:37 CEST   
And Stefan Schumacher, usually not a TT specialist at all, now leads the intermediate ranking at km 19.5 with 24'42 minutes! Can you believe it. But will the German be able to hold his pace until the end?

16:42 CEST   
Cadel Evans is off! Next up is David Millar.

The sun is out - stay tuned for the finale! The race is not over yet, with Cancellara, Menchov and Voigt so close together, and several favourites still coming up.

16:44 CEST   
An important information has just reached us. Apparently, it is less windy in Cholet now, and temperatures have gone up. This may partly be why Schumacher is going as well as he is, compared to other specialists before him.

16:46 CEST   
Schumi is coming in. He's pushing a big gear. 35'44 - 33 seconds faster than Cancellara!! What a race!

16:52 CEST   
Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) now rolls down the start ramp. He will be trying to limit his losses against Cadel Evans, hoping that he can make up the time again in the mountains.

We're still baffled by Schumacher's performance, and eager to find out what he and Cancellara will have to say after the stage is over.

16:54 CEST   
Millar is bent down impressively on his bike, the chin lower than his saddle. He looks good, in the rhythm for now, better than Cancellara on the first part of the course.

16:57 CEST   
Evans came in 8th, 22 seconds slower than Schumacher at the first time check.

Yellow jersey Romain Feillu powers out of the start block, the French jubilating. All the riders have finished or are on the course now. In 35 minutes, we will know the winner.

17:00 CEST   
Millar still looks really effective. Let's hope he can get a good result here today. He's 13 seconds back on Schumacher at the first time check, currently in second position.

17:03 CEST   
Feillu will be riding the time trial of his life, surely. "The yellow jersey gives you wings", people say in France, so we shouldn't underestimate his chances of actually preserving it. He's pushing a big gear out of Cholet, on the climbing part of the course. He's suffering, already.

17:07 CEST   
Feillu has an advantage of 1'45 minutes on Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne). David Millar (Garmin) and Cadel Evans (Silence) are both 1'46 minutes adrift.

17:09 CEST   
Evans clocks 25'06 at the second check. Millar comes in at 24'57... The Scot is only 15 seconds away from Schumacher, and definitely on a very good day today!

17:14 CEST   
Millar is speeding with a very high pedaling frequency.

George Hincapie (Columbia) finished after 36'26 minutes. Not a bad result at all. He is currently ranked sixth on the stage.

17:15 CEST   
Three kilometres to go for Millar. He's suffering.

Evans is on the last 1000 metres.

17:17 CEST   
Evans bites his teeth... second behind Schumacher at 36'11!

17:19 CEST   
And Millar beats Evans by a few seconds, still: 36'02! That's an excellent result for the Garmin rider!

17:20 CEST   
Ohhh... Feillu in trouble on that climb. His gear is too big. He's glued to the tarmac. Poor him.

17:24 CEST   
At the moment, German Stefan Schumacher has won the stage and will take the yellow jersey, too.

Feillu is gooone...

17:29 CEST   
Kim Kirchen comes in - a brilliant performance by the Luxemburger. He clocks the same time as Millar.

Valverde finishes after 37'18 minutes. He lost 1'07 on Evans - not too bad!

17:30 CEST   
Feillu is sprinting, doing all he can. But it'll be in vain against such a strong performance that Schumacher - and some others - put on today. He passes under the 5km to go-banner.

17:32 CEST   
Will Frischkorn has arrived: 39'45.

17:36 CEST   
Schumacher's average speed was 49.534 km/h. Not as fast as we could have expected in this rather short time trial. Was it just the parcours, and the wind, or may we hope that the peloton is really riding cleaner than in previous years?

Paolo Longo comes in, clocking 40'16. This is our provisional Top 3:

General classification after stage 4
1 Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner)
2 Kim Kirchen (Columbia) 0.12
3 David Millar (Garmin Chipotle - H30)

17:46 CEST   
A Frenchman lost the lead, a German gets it - and the Swiss time trial favourite did not live up to his expectations. What do we conclude? That this Tour de France is full of surprises, and definitely very open.

Menchov and Valverde limited their losses on Tour favourite Evans. Cunego is 1'05 back. Ricco lost out on GC.

17:48 CEST   
Thanks for following the first Tour de France time trial on with us. We'll be back again tomorrow with stage 5 from Cholet to Chateauroux, the longest stage in 2008. Anther sprinter's stage, if the bunch can control the breakaways. Until then, au revoir!

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