Armstrong’s team prove too strong in time trial stage

ST DIZIER: The US Postal team of four-time champion Lance Armstrong took control of the Tour de France race lead after their humbling of the contenders in the 69km fourth stage time trial here yesterday. 

However it was Colombian Victor Hugo Pena, who was ranked ahead of Armstrong in the race's overall standings prior to the start of the stage, who became the new race leader and the first from his country to ever wear the famous yellow jersey. 

He leads Armstrong by just one second. 

ROLLING ON: Cyclists racing past hay rolls during the third stage of the 2003 Tour de France cycling race on Tuesday near St Dizier.- EPApic

But the 29-year-old former top swimmer, who has completed two Tours already, gave all the credit for his success to Armstrong. 

“I remember watching the Tour on television when I was younger, watching guys like (Frenchmen) Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon and just wishing it was me,” said Pena. 

“I'm really happy to be in yellow, but this victory is down to the whole team. I think today Lance was the best team-mate in the world.” 

The win was also US Postal's first in a team trial event, which has been won by Credit Agricole (2001) and ONCE (2002) in the past two years. 

In second place was the ONCE team of Spaniard Joseba Beloki, one of Armstrong's main rivals, who finished at 30secs adrift after having set an impressive time to push off the provisional standings. 

HANGING ON: Gerolsteiner team rider Rene Haselbacher of Austria trying to keep his jersey together that was ripped apart in a crash during the third stage of the Tour de France on Tuesday.- Reuterspic

Bianchi, the Italian team of 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich, placed third at 43. 

With US Postal riding off the ramp last, because they have led the team standings since the start of the race, ONCE's lead was always going to be under threat. 

Armstrong is known for his slow starts to time trial events, usually keeping his best for the latter stages, and the formula was no different yesterday. 

US Postal were 14secs behind at the first intermediate point at 18km but gradually got back into contention and had moved up to provisional second by the second time check at 44.5km. 

The 31-year-old Armstrong and his disciplined team kept their best for the section between that point and the final check point 10km before the finish – by which time they had pushed ONCE down into second with a deficit of 17secs. 

Maintaining their pace in the final stretch Armstrong pushed his troops over the line to hand the Spanish team some work to do if they want to get closer before the weekend's crucial mountain stages. 

Armstrong was delighted for Pena, and also for the fact that they put paid to never winning the event, which was held in baking 30°C plus temperatures. 

“It was a difficult stage, mainly because of the heat and the wind which was blowing head on and from the right,” said a visibly delighted Armstrong after the race. 

“We'd never won this event before so we're pretty happy.” 

Thanks to their blistering time yesterday, US Postal riders now occupy the first eight places in the overall standings. 

Beloki lies in ninth place. – AFP 

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