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Ben Stiller gives the yellow jersey to ... not Lance Armstrong

July 7, 2009 | 11:45 am

Cancellara_240 Lance Armstrong's Astana won the Tour de France team time trial today in Montpellier but only by fractions of a second, Armstrong is second overall to Saxo Bank's Fabian Cancellara.

One can think perhaps that Armstrong thought he might have been putting on the yellow jersey Tuesday because his friend, actor Ben Stiller, made the yellow jersey podium presentation to Cancellara. Earlier this year Stiller had hosted a cancer charity event for Armstrong in Los Angeles, and on Monday Armstrong and Stiller had coffee before the start of the third stage.

Already this Tour has been full of energy and intrigue, more than normal in the first week where you'd usually have a series of flat stages offering excitement only to sprinters and where the overall favorites would mostly try to stay safe and avoid the mass pile-up crashes that occur early in the Tour when everybody is fresh and aggressive.

But there was the big break in the peloton that happened Monday when tricky winds played havoc. Armstrong understood what was happening and stayed with Columbia-HTC when it got fed up that none of the other teams with strong sprinters (Columbia has the best in 24-year-old Mark Cavendish) worked to reel in the breakaway group and took off on its own at a point where the route turned and the winds became a super-breezy crosswind. Armstrong and Cancellara stuck with Columbia but Armstrong's teammate and pre-race favorite Alberto Contador missed the split and lost time to Armstrong as did several other favorites such as Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov and Andy Schleck. It was a truly amazing turn of events.

So there was anticipation that with his Astana team favored to win the team time trial that Armstrong might actually put on yellow today.

Not quite.

Armstrong was 40 seconds behind Cancellara going into the stage, and Astana finished 40 seconds ahead of Cancellara's Saxo Bank team. It even took Tour officials about 10 minutes to announce that, after parsing all the numbers, it was Cancellara who kept yellow. Armstrong is second, officially 0.00 behind Cancellara. So, yeah, that's not far behind.

This race is getting so good. And so soon.

-- Diane Pucin

Photo: Fabian Cancellara remains in the yellow jersey during stage four of the Tour de France. Credit: Gepa / US Presswire