Eurosport - Sat, 03 Jul 15:23:00 2010
Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara rode into the yellow jersey as he won the prologue of the Tour de France in Rotterdam.
HTC-Columbia rider Tony Martin, one of the early starters, had held the lead right throughout the afternoon until world time-trial champion Cancellara (Saxo Bank), the penultimate man to tackle the 9-kilometre course, stopped the clock in exactly 10 minutes to shave 10 seconds off the young German's time.
Britain's David Millar (Garmin Transitions) and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) turned in excellent performances, finishing third and fifth respectively, either side of American legend Lance Armstrong (Radio Shack), who beat arch-rival Alberto Contador (Astana) by five seconds.
"This victory really gets us going. It shows I'm ready, the team is ready," said Cancellara.
Britain's Bradley Wiggins, fourth overall last year, was one of the main disappointments of the day, finishing 77th, 56 seconds adrift.
"I was happy with how I felt physically and the numbers I put out but I didn't want to chance anything," the Olympic pursuit champion said.
"I said the prologue wasn't the be all and end all for me. I'm just happy I got round in one piece."
Intermittent rain in the Dutch host city provided testing conditions for the riders, though Martin, who had caused a stir by beating Cancellara in the opening time-trial in the Swiss maestro's home tour last month, made it round an increasingly wet course early enough to set an impressive early benchmark.
Wiggins (Team Sky) was not so fortunate, and endured perhaps the worst of the rain as he went off just after Martin, erring on the side of caution through the course's more technical sections to finish an eventual 56 seconds behind Cancellara.
Wiggins' team-mate Thomas, who had been targeting a win in the stage, fared far better, and held second place for some considerable time before Millar squeezed in two seconds ahead of his compatriot.
As the general classification contenders began to roll in, last year's runner-up Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) stood out as one man dissatisfied with his time, shaking his head as he crossed the line in 11:09, leaving him 47 seconds behind Armstrong and 42 behind Contador, his main rivals for overall victory.
Schleck's team-mate and brother Frank fared marginally better, finishing 57 seconds down on Cancellara, while BMC leader Cadel Evans was a respectable 39 seconds off the pace.
As the afternoon began to draw to a close the rain stopped and the course began to dry, opening the way for last few riders to have a real crack at Martin's time.
Dauphine winner Janez Brajkovic (Radio Shack) came in 13th, with Milram leader Linus Gerdemann an impressive 10th - though the real challenge was always likely to come from the final three of Armstrong, Cancellara and defending champion Contador.
When Cancellara powered through the intermediate checkpoint at the halfway mark six seconds inside Martin's time, the German smiled ruefully in the finish area.
But even as the battle for the stage win went on, another battle was developing between last year's team-mates-cum-enemies Contador and Armstrong, with the Spaniard lagging a single second behind the American at halfway.
The inevitable was confirmed as Cancellara picked up his pace through the final section of the course to depose Martin at the top of the podium, and though Armstrong finished back in fourth, the fact he held his tempo well to finish an eventual five seconds ahead of Contador will no doubt be a source of pleasure.
The time difference is far too small to be meaningful, but it offers evidence in support of Armstrong's pre-race claim that he is indeed in better shape than last year, and could provide a sterner test for the Spaniard over the next three weeks.
Sunday's first stage takes the peloton 223 kilometres from Rotterdam to Brussels, in what could be a chance for Manxman Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) to add to his 10 Tour de France stage wins should victory be decided by a bunch sprint.
Tour prologue results:
Standing - Rider - Team - Time - Gap
1 - CANCELLARA Fabian - TEAM SAXO BANK - 10' 00" -
2 - MARTIN Tony - TEAM HTC - COLUMBIA - 10' 10" - + 00' 10"
3 - MILLAR David - GARMIN - TRANSITIONS - 10' 20" - + 00' 20"
4 - ARMSTRONG Lance - TEAM RADIOSHACK - 10' 22" - + 00' 22"
5 - THOMAS Geraint - SKY PRO CYCLING - 10' 23" - + 00' 23"
6 - CONTADOR Alberto - ASTANA - 10' 27" - + 00' 27"
7 - FARRAR Tyler - GARMIN - TRANSITIONS - 10' 28" - + 00' 28"
8 - LEIPHEIMER Levi - TEAM RADIOSHACK - 10' 28" - + 00' 28"
9 - BOASSON HAGEN Edvald - SKY PRO CYCLING - 10' 32" - + 00' 32"
11 - BOOKWALTER Brent - BMC RACING TEAM - 10' 35" - + 00' 35"
12 - MALORI Adriano - LAMPRE - FARNESE - 10' 35" - + 00' 35"
13 - BRAJKOVIC Janez - TEAM RADIOSHACK - 10' 35" - + 00' 35"
14 - ROGERS Michael - TEAM HTC - COLUMBIA - 10' 35" - + 00' 35"
15 - PLAZA MOLINA Ruben - CAISSE D’EPARGNE - 10' 36" - + 00' 36"
16 - TERPSTRA Niki - TEAM MILRAM - 10' 36" - + 00' 36"
17 - KL÷DEN Andrťas - TEAM RADIOSHACK - 10' 36" - + 00' 36"
18 - KIRYIENKA Vasil - CAISSE D’EPARGNE - 10' 38" - + 00' 38"
19 - VINOKOUROV Alexandre - ASTANA - 10' 38" - + 00' 38"Michael FitzGerald / Eurosport