Four-time world champion Fabian Cancellara stuck to tradition by powering to victory in the opening stage time trial at the Tour of Switzerland on Saturday. Cancellara has won the opening time trial four times since 2003 and did not disappoint the thousands of fans who lined scenic Lake Lugano by finishing the hilly 7.3 km course in 9min 41.8sec.
American Tejay Van Garderen of HTC-Highroad impressed by finishing second at only 9secs adrift with Slovakian Peter Sagan, of Liquigas, in third place at 17. “I’m very happy because I was feeling a little bit nervous before the start. I saw that there was almost double the number of spectators compared to last year,” said Cancellara. “I had two big fears today: suffering a mechanical problem and having to do the downhill section like a man possessed.”
Cancellara did come close to suffering a mechanical problem, the Swiss starting the race in jittery fashion when he experienced a minor problem with his electronic gear shifters. However unlike teammate Andy Schleck, who had to change bikes due to a mechanical problem and finished 1min 18sec off the pace, it was a blip on an otherwise commanding performance.
Still, Cancellara – who now has five victories from opening time trials or prologues in the race – admitted: “It was a lot harder than last year’s opening stage.” Leopard-Trek’s Frank Schleck is the reigning champion in the nine-stage event, which in its 75th edition has been toughened by organisers to the extent that Cancellara, the champion in 2009, has ruled himself out of overall victory.
Although featuring a twisting climb of just over 2km after a one-kilometre warm-up on the flat, Cancellara did not fare too badly by the time he reached the race’s only intermediate point at the 3km mark.
RadioShack’s Kloden, one of the few riders who on paper looks capable of challenging Schleck for overall victory, topped the times at the summit however Cancellara was less than two seconds adrift. Wearing his world time trial champion’s rainbow jersey, Cancellara then powered down the descent towards the finish line where his winning time pushed provisional leader Van Garderen down a place.
Cancellara, also known for his skiing skills, added: “It’s a bit like doing a hard downhill in skiing, you have to stay in control while taking risks and not losing any speed.” Kloden eventually finished fifth at 18, two seconds ahead of American Tom Danielson and four seconds ahead of American teammate Levi Leipheimer.
By the time Frank Schleck was halfway through his race the wind had picked up and rain had started to fall, forcing the Luxemburger to lessen the risk-taking. But he will have taken note of his rivals’ performances in the short ‘race of truth’. Schleck eventually finished 62nd, 41secs off the winning pace of his Leopard-Trek teammate, who will now wear the leader’s yellow jersey into Sunday’s 149km second stage from Airolo.