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Honchar wins Tour de France time trial

india Updated: Jul 09, 2006 17:16 IST
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Serhiy Honchar became the first Ukrainian to take the Tour de France leader's yellow jersey on Saturday, dominating the field in the first long time trial of this year's race.

The T-Mobile rider, a former world time trial champion, was by far the strongest in the race against the clock, beating American Floyd Landis in the seventh stage by more than a minute. Sebastian Lang from Germany was third.

After a week of mostly flat stages that favored sprinters, the first long individual time trial of the Tour was expected to give an indication of the overall race favorites.

The shakeout didn't end up exactly that way, though many anticipated favorites ranked in the top 20 in the overall standings after the stage.

The biggest surprise was the performance of the T-Mobile squad despite losing its leader Jan Ullrich in connection with a doping scandal and the relatively lackluster stage of the top Americans, except for Landis.

Honchar was timed at 1 hour, 1 minute, 43 seconds over 52 kilometers (32 miles) from Saint-Gregoire to Rennes at an average speed of 50.55 kilometers an hour (31.41 miles an hour).

The stage win was Honchar's first in three Tours. He has won five time trials at the Tour of Italy.

Landis, of the Phonak team, was 1 minute, 1 second behind Honchar, and moved to second in the overall standings. Lang was a further three seconds back, and was 15th overall.

Australian world time trial champion Michael Rogers of T-Mobile finished fourth and climbed to third overall.

Teammate Andreas Kloeden - who was runner-up to American star Lance Armstrong in the 2004 Tour - finished sixth and was eighth overall. Honchar, who turned 36 last week, grabbed the front of the yellow jersey in delight after it was slipped onto his shoulders on the podium.

He said it was the best day of his career since he won the world time trial title in 2000.

"It was totally unexpected. I did my maximum," he said through a translator on French television.

At the winner's press conference, Honchar said through a translator that his name is Gonchar. But Tour organizers and his team said they would continue to use the name on his passport, Serhiy Honchar.

Honchar's win was the second at this Tour for the T-Mobile squad, which lost its leader Jan Ullrich and another rider to a doping scandal on the eve of the race start on July 1.

Honchar said he and the other T-Mobile riders had prepared "100 percent" to support Ullrich. Four of the seven T-Mobile riders left in the race placed in the top eight.

Landis suffered a handlebar problem, forcing him to change bikes while out on the course. But he said he was pleased with his ride.

"I got beat fair and square," he said. "It looks good for the rest of the race, but there's a long way to go. We'll take it one day at a time."

Aside from Landis, a former teammate of seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong, other top Americans were not as strong as expected.

Levi Leipheimer placed 96th, despite being among those expected to shine at the Tour blown wide open by Armstrong's retirement and the doping allegations that took out Ullrich and Tour of Italy champion Ivan Basso.

The 6:06 that the Gerolsteiner rider lost to Honchar could end his hopes of winning this Tour. Leipheimer did not talk to reporters immediately after the race, but Landis said, "I wouldn't write him off yet."

Another former Armstrong teammate, George Hincapie, fared better, placing 24th. But he still trailed Honchar by 2:42. Asked how his ride went, Hincapie replied, "Not good."

US veteran Bobby Julich, a CSC teammate of Zabriskie, crashed out of the Tour after losing control of his bike on a bend in the route. X-rays showed he broke a bone in his right wrist, CSC team spokesman Brian Nygaard said.

Honchar, a time trial specialist, refused to predict how he might perform later in the three-week race, which heads to the Pyrenees next week and then goes to the Alps.

Before the Tour, he had not been considered among the favorites to win the overall title.

"I just want to enjoy this victory and the yellow jersey," said Honchar, who did not finish the 2005 Tour and placed 64th in 2002. "I don't want to think about anything else."

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