Ukraine's Honchar Wins Tour De France Time Trial, Takes Race Lead

RENNES, France -- Sergiy Honchar became the first Ukrainian to take the Tour de France leader's yellow jersey Saturday, dominating the field in the first long time trial of this year's race.

New overall leader Sergiy Honchar of Ukraine puts on the yellow jersey on the podium after winning the 7th stage of the 93rd Tour de France cycling race, a 52-kilometer (32.3-mile) individual time trial between Saint-Gregoire and Rennes, western France, Saturday, July 8, 2006. Honchar takes the overall lead of the 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.

Honchar was timed at one hour one minute 43 seconds over 52 kilometres, an average speed of 50.55 kilometres per hour.

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

Landis was 1:01 behind Gonchar, and moved up to second in the overall standings. Lang was a further three seconds back.

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," he said through a translator on French television. "I did my maximum."

Honchar is listed as Honchar by Tour organizers and in cycling books because his name is misspelled in his passport, Gonchar said at the winner's press conference.

His 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 per cent" to support Ullrich.

"The results are arriving," he said. 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 Gonchar 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 Gonchar by 2:42.

Asked how his ride went, Hincapie replied: "Not good."

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 favourites 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."

Source: Canadian Press