July 24/99 11:27 am - Armstrong Takes Fourth Tour Stage
Posted by Editor on 07/24/99
Although there was little chance of anyone actually catching Lance Armstrong in the overall standings in today's 57 kilometre time trial, there was the opportunity for a number of riders to move up a position or two in the standings. Particularly interesting would be the battle between second place overall Fernando Escartin (Kelme) and Alex Zulle (Banesto) in third. Zulle is a known time triallist, and entered the stage only 1:13 down on Escartin.
World hour record holder Chris Boardman (Credit Agricole) set the early standard - 1:11:46 in a gusty wind. That time stood until his team mate Stuart O'Grady lopped 42 seconds off. O'Grady's time stood up for a considerable time before Rik Verbrugghe (Lotto) dropped the leading time to 1:10:20. However, as the top-20 began to race, the times started to drop. US Postal's Tyler Hamilton got off to a slow start and then stormed through the rest of the course to set a new best time of 1:09:52.
Now Zulle and Armstrong were on course, and time splits kept dropping as they covered the course. Halfway through the circuit, Zulle had already moved into first on the stage, and had passed Escartin to step up to second overall. The Swiss rider was also posting the fastest times at the splits (and had caught 4th place overall Saeco-Cannondale rider Laurent Dufaux)...until Armstrong went through. By the halfway mark (28 kilometres), the yellow jersey was 21 seconds ahead, and caught his 3 minute man - Escartin - with 20 kilometres to go.
So, although Zulle was able to temporarily take the lead (and wrestle some time back in the last 6 kilometres), and move into second overall, his hopes of a stage win were again dashed by the Tour dominating performance of Armstrong, who won in a time of 1:08:17. Zulle was second, at 9 seconds, with Hamilton third at 1:34. Angel Casero took fourth (1:36 down) and Rik Verbrugghe fifth at 2:02.