Swiss time trial specialist Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) stuck with tradition today by winning the opening prologue of the 97th Tour de France and taking possession of the race's yellow jersey.
Cancellara, the reigning Olympic champion, claimed what was his fourth prologue win in the world's biggest race after pushing German Tony Martin into second place by 10sec.
Britain's David Millar was third in a time of 10:20; the Scot, who rides for Garmin-Transitions, finishing two seconds ahead of seven-time champion Lance Armstrong of RadioShack.
Welshman Geraint Thomas, of Team Sky, completed the top five, with reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador of Astana in sixth place. England's Bradley Wiggins, one of the favourites for the short 8.9km time trial that traditionally opens the three-week epic, finished way off the pace in 77th place, losing a massive 56secs, and 29 to Contador.
Martin, who is considered one of Germany's future challengers for yellow jersey honours, appeared to have been handed a huge slice of luck when he got to start 11th from the 198-man field.
Shortly after he powered over the line in the best provisional time the skies opened, and for much of the day the field had to race in the rain, making accelerations, and particularly turns, tricky and dangerous.
The rain eventually eased off and the clouds made way for blue skies just as many of the bigger names like Armstrong, Contador and Cancellara were preparing to start.
Cancellara, who was recently at the centre of controversy after claims he could have used a hidden mini-engine in his bike for key victories earlier this spring, took full advantage to take the provisional lead at the halfway point.
Martin, watching nervously at the finish, was only six seconds behind by then but the writing was on the wall and Cancellara finished a full 10sec faster than the German.
After reconnoitering the course in dry conditions on Friday, Cancellara admitted he had to have another final look, in the rain, before setting out. "I did the race yesterday when it was dry but I decided to do a lap in the car before the prologue. To see the course in the wet was quite important," said the 29-year-old.
"I hoped and prayed that everying was going to come together for me on the day, and it did. It's an amazing day. I'm really happy." Cancellara previously won the prologues in Liege, Belgium in 2004, London in 2007 and Monaco last year.
And his team manager, Bjarne Riis, responded to post-race quips about bike engines by saying there was nothing suspicious about his ride. "It was a champion who won out there today," said Riis.
Cancellara will now wear the yellow jersey into Sunday's opening stage over 223.5km from Rotterdam to Brussels, and he fully intends to keep hold of it. "That's the plan," he said. "It was a great opening for me."
© AFP 2010
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