Tour de France 1: Fabian Cancellara in yellow

Armstrong returns and the race begins

Switzerland's Olympic time-trial champion Fabian Cancellara won the first stage of the 2009 Tour de France on Saturday in a time of 19 minutes, 32.14 seconds to claim the yellow jersey.

The 28-year-old showed his class with an impressive performance on the twisting and challenging 15.5km hilly course around the tiny Principality.

Current Tour of Switzerland champion Cancellara wiped 19 seconds off the previous fastest time set by Garmin's Bradley Wiggins, who eventually finished third.

"I am quite proud, I put in the maximum possible effort," said the Swiss rider, whose Saxo Bank team will now defend the yellow jersey at least until the next big rendezvous: the team time trial over 39km held on the fourth stage.

"I was one of the favourites to win here before the race and I knew if I got things right it would be very difficult for my rivals to beat me. That was special motivation. To be back in the yellow jersey again is a great achievement both for me and my team, I am proud of it. Now everyone knows Cancellara is back and he is stronger," he added.

"We will defend the yellow jersey until the team time trial."

Cancellara stamped his authority in Monaco, grabbing yellow ahead of Contador

Seven-times Tour champion Lance Armstrong, who is back after nearly four years in retirement, showed he still has the potential to worry the leaders as he finished 10th in a time of 20:12, just 40 seconds behind the winner.

Contador stormed to a second-place finish Saturday

Armstrong's Astana teammate Alberto Contador, the 2007 Tour winner, claimed second 18 seconds behind Cancellara with a strong performance, while defending champion Carlos Sastre finished 01:08 off the pace.

Defending champion Carlos Sastre finished 21st, 1:08 off the pace

Astana's Andreas Klöden finished fourth in a time of 19:54, 22 seconds off the winner's pace, while Australia's Cadel Evans claimed fifth after finishing just a second off the German. Astana's Leipheimer finished sixth on the day after setting an early best time, putting four Astana riders in the day's top ten.

The new yellow jersey holder also revealed he had been battling depression in April this year.

"I had a few problems in April, things weren't going my way, but it makes me even prouder to know that I am strong in the head too to come back from that," Cancellara added.

The Swiss star also paid tribute to his team's mechanics, but revealed he had personally paid great attention to his bike.

"I take my hat off to the mechanics, they did a great job," he said. "But I checked every millimetre, every detail of that bike as I knew the small things would make the difference out here."

Having held the yellow jersey for a week in 2007 when he won the London prologue and then the stage three, Cancellara said he knew it was a good omen when he was given the same Number 33 to wear here.

Stage 2 is a 182km race from Monaco to Brignoles.

Check back soon for more photos and a complete race report. For results, visit Cyclingnews.com.

© 2009 AFP & BikeRadar

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