Cancellara wants Yellow in Tour's First TimeTrial

July 8, 2008 6:56:10 AM PDT
A year ago, Fabian Cancellara took yellow on day one. This year he's had to be patient for a few more days - and he still had plenty of work to do. The Swiss time-trial world champion went into Tuesday's fourth stage of the Tour de France as the favorite to win the 18.3-mile time trial around the town of Cholet. But to take the yellow jersey of overall leader, he not only had to win, he had to win by a good margin.

Cancellara began the day 1 minute, 52 seconds behind the race leader, Romain Feillu of France, who took the lead after a four-man, all-day breakaway in Monday's third stage. Also with a few seconds in hand over Cancellara were some of the favorites, including Cadel Evans and Alejandro Valverde, and veteran time-trial specialist David Millar.

"I will go for the win, and then we will see, because (that much time to make up) is so hard," Cancellara said. "It is important that I do everything I can. If I do that, they will have to put a warmer jacket on, because I will be very fast."

Last year Cancellara beat the rest of the field to take yellow in the prologue time trial of the Tour in London. He also won the third stage, and held on to the yellow jersey until the seventh stage.

He won't have it all his own way this year, however. British rider Millar will be seeking revenge for his loss in London, and the favorites in the overall competition will be desperate to do well to avoid losing time to their rivals. Those include Evans, Cancellara's CSC teammate Carlos Sastre and Valverde, seeking to regain the yellow jersey he lost on Monday.

Monday was a day to celebrate for the French, who have had little to cheer about in the race in recent years. While Feillu finished third and took the yellow jersey, his compatriot Samuel Dumoulin beat out American William Frischkorn for the stage victory.

The three, along with Paolo Longo Borghini of Italy, had broken away from the main pack in the opening minutes of the race and held on for more than five hours, completing the 129.2-mile trek from Saint-Malo to Nantes just over 2 minutes ahead of the chasers.

"It is a dream come true," said the 27-year-old Dumoulin. "It is hours and hours of training, braving the rain, the cold, the heat. It took a lot of sacrifice."

Feillu almost didn't get a place on his Agritubel team at all after missing much of the early season with toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection.

"I didn't ride for 2½ months. I could barely walk," Feillu said. "I was extremely motivated, and maybe that gave me the will to win today."

Evans, 39th, and Valverde, back in 68th, finished safely among the pack.

Tuesday's race will start in reverse order from the overall standings. This means Valverde rides fourth from last and gives him the chance to see how fast Evans goes.

"The aim for me was to make sure I started behind all the favorites," Valverde said. "So that I will have an idea of their times."

The stage will give the first real indication as to which riders are looking strong, and could see Evans and Valverde open up significant time gaps on others - or on each other.

They had a close tussle in last month's Dauphine Libere race, where Valverde won the time trial and the race - defeating Evans by 39 seconds.

Other Tour contenders such as Russia's Denis Menchov and Spain's Sastre also need a strong time trial. Sastre, a mountain specialist, is 6 seconds behind Evans and 7 seconds behind Valverde.

Fourth overall last year and third in 2006, Sastre is not particularly fast - so if he loses too much time Tuesday, he might struggle to make it up later when the July 5-27 Tour hits the Pyrenees and the Alps.

"I know Carlos is not really looking forward to it," said Sastre's teammate, Stuart O'Grady.


AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire in Nantes contributed to this report.