MONTPELLIER, July 8 – Lance Armstrong dramatically missed out on the yellow jersey by the slimmest of margins here on Tuesday after his Astana team smashed their rivals apart in the Tour de France's fourth stage time trial.Astana came over the finish line of the 39km race against the clock 40secs ahead of the Saxo Bank team of Fabian Cancellara, who began and finished the race in the yellow jersey.
However Armstrong, the seven-time champion who moved up seven places from 10th to third after Monday’s equally dramatic third stage, has shown once again that he fully intends to stay in contention for an eighth Tour crown.
Armstrong, returning to the race four years after his seventh triumph in 2005, is now second in the overall standings at zero seconds behind Cancellara, missing taking the yellow jersey by just two tenths of a second.
The media interest around Armstrong has intensified in the last 48 hours with local police here moving around the Astana bus in the race’s aftermath to break up the scrum of waiting journalists.
"It makes me miss a bit the beach I was on for the last four years before all this," quipped Armstrong as he approached the massed ranks of the press.
"It’s a little bit of a disappointment (to miss) but the yellow jersey is on the horizon.
"Astana did their maximum."
The Garmin team of David Millar and Bradley Wiggins did well to finish in second, only 18secs behind Astana, in an event they desperately wanted to win.
The American team’s bid came undone earlier than they had hoped, however, when they lost four of their riders early in the race.
Italian outfit Liquigas impressed in the time trial by finishing fourth at 58secs, one second ahead of Columbia.
Defending yellow jersey champion Carlos Sastre suffered his second big setback on the race, after losing time to key rivals in the opening stage time trial, when his Cervelo team finished eighth at 1:37 behind Astana.