Olympic champion Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland won the race-opening prologue of the Tour de France here Saturday to claim the first race leader’s yellow jersey of the 99th edition. RadioShack rider Cancellara, who clocked a winning time of 7min 13.46sec for the 6.4km course, repeated his feat of 2004 on an almost identical course in the center of Liege to boost what has been a disastrous season. Britain’s Bradley Wiggins (Sky), the favorite for overall victory, was second at 7sec, less than half a second ahead of Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel of Omega-Pharma.
“It’s great. I’m really proud to have won here today eight years after my first Tour victory in Liege,” said Cancellara. “It hasn’t been the best season for me, but this really helps make amends.”
Although only a short time trial, some yellow jersey contenders as well as the handful of outsiders hoping to challenge for the race’s big prize were left counting their gains and losses. Defending yellow jersey champion Cadel Evans of Australia was last off the ramp and limited his losses on Wiggins by finishing 13th at 17 seconds behind Cancellara and 10 behind Wiggins.
Any disappointment from the BMC camp on his performance will be balanced out by Tejay Van Garderen’s promising fourth-place finish, at 10 seconds behind Cancellara. The American, who is set to be one of Evan’s main helpers in the mountains, thus pulled on the white jersey for the best placed rider overall aged 25 and under.
Italian Vincenzo Nibali, considered by many as the man most likely to threaten Wiggins and Evans, did well to finish 14th just 11 seconds behind the Londoner and 1 second behind Evans. Some outsiders have however already lost precious time. Luxembourg’s Frank Schleck, who finished third overall last year, finished 135th at 38 seconds behind teammate Cancellara. Movistar’s contender Alejandro Valverde of Spain, who is hoping for a podium spot, finished at 35 seconds.
Others who had been hoping to grab victory and start the race Sunday wearing the fabled yellow jersey suffered misfortune. Slovakia’s Peter Sagan, heralded as a big challenger to Cancellara, did not get the start he expected and lost more time when his foot came out of his pedal cleat as he negotiated a left hand bend. The Slovakian eventually finished 52nd at 24 seconds behind. Germany’s Tony Martin, who succeeded Cancellara as world time trial champion in 2011, was firing on all cylinders until he suffered a puncture which probably cost him the yellow jersey. He ended up finishing 44th at just 23sec behind the Swiss winner.
“It was on a good time, but after my puncture I had to change bike. Without that I would have had an even better time,” said the Omega-Pharma rider. “I’m disappointed, of course. I’ve been planning for this for a long time.”