Astana Dominates Tour TTT; Cancellara Barely Keeps Yellow

James ThompsonCorrespondent IJuly 7, 2009

On the 2009 Tour's Stage Four, a very decisive team time trial, Team Astana delivered the win on what was a windy, blustery course that saw many crashes on the road.

The 39-kilometer course had many tricky corners and strong winds to throw riders off their rhythm, and some teams looking to assert their dominance in the race were left wanting.

Teams set off in reverse order of the team classification, similar to individual time trials where individual riders set off in reverse order of the general classification.  However, the team classification is measured on the total time of the top three riders from the tea.  That meant that yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara (Saxobank) did not get to start last because his team was cumulatively behind the fastest team in the race, Astana.

With so many heavy hitters on the Astana team in Andreas Kloden, Levi Leipheimer, Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador, Astana did not disappoint.  They stayed together as a unit and negotiated the corners with perfect execution. 

Up ahead, Garmin-Slipstream, a team looking to win the event, were not so cohesive. The finishing time of the day is measured on the team's fifth rider to finish, and Garmin was quickly whittled down to only five riders, losing out to bigger teams who kept more riders together and could share the work more effectively.

Saxobank was also putting in a strong performance.  Olympic TT champion Cancellara was driving his team for much of the race, as he was intent on defending his yellow jersey for another day.  

Columbia-HTC was expected to put in a strong performance, but their exertions yesterday to split the field left them slower than expected today, finishing fifth.

Weaker teams, such as Cadel Evans's Silence-Lotto and Denis Menchov's Rabobank were rapidly falling behind.  These teams suffered crashes along the course, which further hampered their efforts.

At the finish line, it was the powerhouse Astana team that took the day.  Garmin's lack of cohesiveness cost them the win, and they finished second despite boasting several accomplished time-trialists.  Cancellara drove his team in for third.

The margins, however, were more exciting.  Astana finished exactly 40 seconds ahead of Saxobank, the margin by which Armstrong was behind Cancellara at the start of the day.

Going back to the decimal places, Cancellara managed to keep his yellow jersey by about one quarter of a second over Armstrong.

With their dominating performance, Astana's contenders, Armstrong, Contador, Kloden, and Leipehimer, now slot in second, third, fourth and fifth, respectively.

Cadel Evans may now be almost entirely out of the running.  His team's weak performance now sees him a full three minutes behind the Astana riders.  

Among other contenders, Andy Schleck (Saxobank) is 1:41 behind Armstrong, Carlos Sastre is 2:44 back, and Menchov a whopping 3:42 behind.

Astana has laid out the tactically perfect race plan with their TTT win today.  They do not yet have the yellow jersey, so they don't have to use their energy now to chase breakaways, but their top four riders now dominate the top places on the general classification.  

It will be extremely hard for outside contenders to overcome their respective deficits and dethrone one of them from the yellow jersey in two and a half weeks' time.