Obscure Italian rider Ivan Gotti came within 8 seconds of robbing Laurent Jalabert of Tour de France leadership Tuesday when the team time trial shook up the overall standings.
Gotti, a climbing specialist making his Tour debut and with no career wins, profited from a magnificent third-stage ride by his Gewiss Ballan team, which covered the 67 kilometers from Mayenne in 1 hour, 13 minutes, 10 seconds.
Jalabert had expected to retain the yellow jersey he won in the second stage with the help of his star-studded ONCE team.
Gotti, the best-placed Gewiss Ballan rider, was 26th overall, 43 seconds behind Jalabert, but when ONCE found itself 35 seconds down on the Gewiss team with 25 kilometers left, the Frenchman was clearly in trouble.
Only supreme efforts by Jalabert and his teammates saved ONCE as it finished second in 1:13:45, 24 seconds ahead of Miguel Indurain's Banesto team.
Jalabert confessed afterward he knew nothing of Gotti, now second overall, and had not even realized he was a threat. "I didn't know he was so close in the overall standings," the Frenchman said. "I would have been very surprised to have lost the yellow jersey to him.
"But it was not possible for us to have done more today. We all rode flat out, but Gewiss Ballan produced an extraordinary performance."
Bjarne Riis, another Gewiss Ballan rider, moved up to third overall, 9 seconds behind Jalabert.
"The whole team functioned so well today," he said. "Our ride was just perfect."
Gotti owed his high placing to Saturday's time trial when he produced a good time before the favorites were hampered by a storm.
Tuesday's route: Mayenne to Alencon, 41.6 miles.
Winner: Gewiss in 1:13.10.
Yellow jersey: Laurent Jalabert, 8 seconds ahead of Ivan Gotti.
Others: Miguel Indurain was on third place Banesto, Tony Rominger on Mapei in fourth. Overall, Indurain is 58 seconds behind Jalabert; Rominger, 1:27.
Americans: Motorola, led by Lance Armstrong and Frankie Andreu, was sixth, 1:59 behind.
Quote: "Gotti is second only because he had the chance to do the prologue when it was dry." _ Jalabert, on the little-known Italian in second place.
Today: Fourth stage, Alencon to Le Havre, 100 miles.