Norway's Thor Hushovd, racing for Credit Agricole, won the prologue in the Paris-Nice on Sunday as Europe's first major stage race of the season got under way with a 4.6km time-trial at Amilly.
This year's 66th edition of the "Race to the Sun" has been shrouded in controversy as organisers Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) opted to hold it under the aegis of the French federation, and not the International Cycling Union (UCI).
As a result Hushovd and the rest of the riders face the wrath of the UCI which has threatened to hand out stiff suspensions, fines and bans from the Olympics and the World Championships.
Hushovd came in 5sec ahead of Spaniard Markel Irizar, German Stefan Schumacher and Australian Bradley McGee, according to initial unconfirmed times with the Norwegian's French teammate William Bonnet fifth.
"I wasn't really thinking about this prologue, I was thinking more about the first two stages," said Hushovd.
"I'm here mainly to prepare for the classics with Milan-Sanremo (March 22) my main objective. But I knew I was in form. Compared to last year I started training more intensively and earlier.
"I felt very strong in the final two kilometres even if it was very hard with the headwind."
Irizar, a 28-year-old Basque without any major triumphs since turning pro four years ago with Euskaltel, appeared set for a shock win as he held the best time down most of the field having been among the first starters.
Then the rain came and the conditions only improved towards the end as the course dried off in parts.
Scot David Millar, who won the prologue a year ago, was 11sec off the pace as he and 30-year-old Hushovd, best known for his road-racing and sprint abilities, were among the final riders to stake their claim.
Hushovd won the youth edition of the world championship time-trials in 1998 and won the prologue at the Tour de France in 2006 in Strasbourg.
Italian Davide Rebellin, one of the overall race favourites, lost 27sec to Hushovd while Aussie racer Cadel Evans, last year's Tour de France runner-up, was 17sec down.
Monday's first stage is a 184.5km ride from Amilly to Nevers.