MONTPELLIER, France -- Lance Armstrong surged within a second of the Tour de France lead after his Astana squad won Tuesday's team time trial in a dramatic finish.
Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara of the Saxo Bank team narrowly kept the yellow jersey lead following the fourth stage, a 24.2-mile ride in and around Montpellier.
Astana needed to beat Saxo Bank by more than 40 seconds for Armstrong to take the yellow jersey. The seven-time champion started the stage in third place, and Astana exactly matched that 40-second deficit. Cancellara's team finished third.
"That's Swiss timing," Cancellara said, laughing. "Time is on my side."
Armstrong credited his teammates but acknowledged he had hoped to move in front after the first team time trial on the Tour since 2005.
"This is a little bit of a disappointment," he said. "That's cycling."
The 37-year-old Texan said the many tight turns along the course made for "tricky" riding. Three crashes marred the start of the stage, including one involving Giro d'Italia winner Denis Menchov.
The U.S. team Garmin was second in the stage, 18 seconds after Astana, despite only five of the nine riders being able to keep up the pace.
The stage finished with a flair. At the last intermediate time check, at the 19-milemark, Astana was 41 seconds faster than Saxo Bank, putting Armstrong in the lead at that point and setting up the tense finale.
Armstrong and Cancellara share an overall time of 10 hours, 38 minutes, 7 seconds, although the Swiss rider was deemed a fraction ahead. Organizers examined Saturday's opening time trial in Monaco that was won by Cancellara. Those results were calculated to the thousandth of a second.
After Cancellara, the next four riders are from Astana: Armstrong; 2007 winner Alberto Contador of Spain is 19 seconds back in third; 2004 runner-up Andreas Kloeden of Germany is fourth, 23 seconds back; and Levi Leipheimer of the United States is fifth, 31 seconds behind.
Astana also dealt a serious blow to some top challengers: Defending champion Carlos Sastre of Spain is 2:44 back; two-time runner-up Cadel Evans of Australia is 2:59 behind; and Menchov of Russia trails by 3:52.
Menchov was trailing a Rabobank teammate when he misjudged a left turn and skidded into the barriers early in the stage. He scraped and bruised his arm.
"It was a slippery road," said Menchov, also crashed in the final time trial of the Giro. "It's nothing serious."
Four riders on the BBox Bouygues Telecom team also crashed, as did Belgian rider Jurgen van den Broeck, a support rider to Evans on the Silence Lotto squad.
The teams set off one by one at seven-minute intervals in a race against the clock. The course through sun-baked streets of Montpellier, near the Mediterranean, is among the flattest this Tour.
Riders try to ride single file to cut down on wind drag and take turns in the lead to maximize efficiency and conserve energy. The first five riders record the same times while laggards get individual times. All teams had nine riders except Quick Step; one member of the Belgian squad quit the race after a crash in Stage 2.
Next up is Stage 5, a 122-mile ride along the Mediterranean from Le Cap d'Agde to Perpignan. The Tour ends July 26 in Paris.