Tour de France: Gontchar the target for preying Landis

Favourites outpaced by Ukrainian veteran

The Tour's first major challenge, a 52-kilometre time trial, saw the American Floyd Landis make solid inroads on the overall classification and - on paper and prior to all the mountains - become the best-placed favourite for the final victory in Paris.

While the veteran Sergei Gontchar took both a surprising win on stage seven and the yellow jersey yesterday, the 36-year-old Ukrainian is widely expected to hold the lead only as far as the foot of the Pyrenees next Wednesday.

Landis, who placed an impressive second, 1min 1sec behind Gontchar, could well have ended his stage very differently after the Phonak rider was forced to change his bike mid-race following a spectacular near-crash.

Just as in the prologue, where a slit tyre meant a late start to the stage, the Pennsylvanian was teetering towards disaster at one point. He all but took off when he rode over a speed bump at full steam, his front wheel rearing in the air and his entire frame slammed against a mini-roundabout.

His handlebars broke under the impact, and it was nothing short of miraculous that Landis did not crash badly as well. Instead, the former lieutenant for Lance Armstrong has now become the best-placed of the overall contenders, second, 1min behind Gontchar.

Landis was one of the few Americans - most people's pre-stage favourites - to come away from the time trial feeling satisfied. The leader of Armstrong's Discovery team, George Hincapie, slid slowly out of the frame to take 24th, while the Californian Levi Leipheimer cracked completely to finish over six minutes down.

Bobby Julich, one of the few previous Tour podium finishers still in the race, fared even worse. The CSC rider's front wheel slipped on a greasy road surface and he left the race with a broken wrist.

The real surprise of the day, though, was Gontchar, a former world time-trial champion but who, at 36, was thought too long in the tooth to count as a contender. There was no disputing the figures though: Gontchar smashed all the intermediate best times to record the fourth fastest average speed ever at 50.554kmh for a long time trial in the Tour.

"This area must bring me luck, I won the world time-trial championships in 2000 just down the road from here," Gontchar said. "For now I don't know what will happen afterwards, I just want to enjoy the feeling of taking my first ever stage in the Tour.

"Yes I am 36, but I feel a lot younger." Age notwithstanding, Gontchar could prove difficult for Landis to shake off in the mountains. Second in the 2004 Giro d'Italia and briefly leader in the same race earlier this season, the Ukrainian has a string of top-10 overall places in Italy's top event to his name, and his team have four riders in the first 10 in the Tour.

For T-Mobile, Gontchar's yellow jersey is a near-miracle: their leader Jan Ullrich was excluded from the Tour in the build-up following implication in a doping scandal, and the team's morale was understandably battered as a consequence.

While one of Britain's time-trial specialists on the race, David Millar, suffered badly to finish a disappointing 37th, his compatriot Bradley Wiggins celebrated his Tour debut with 28th on the stage.

"I nearly cracked in the last two kilometres, but I'm very pleased," Wiggins, who beat stars of the calibre of Hincapie and Leipheimer, said. "I was supposed to go all out in the first part and then ease off, but in fact I was going so well I ended up catching two other riders."

Alasdair Fotheringham writes for 'Cycling Weekly'

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape