What’s more, the horrific weather that’s pounded northern Europe and especially Britain the past few weeks took a turn for the better, as the sun shined all day through a sky dotted with the puffy clouds that mark the UK summer. Glorious stuff indeed and the perfect setting to get the Tour de France underway.
For once the crowds in front of Buckingham Palace were looking the other way.
With such a wide open race, it was about as much anticipation as anyone could stand to see who would step up and show their intentions first, and strongest over the 7900meter, mostly flat – and fast circuit.
With no previous winners anywhere near the start line, the scent of the maillot jaune was strong on the noses of so many “also rans” from previous editions. No matter, though, as the best in the sport took the starthouse around 4:30PM local time, led by Team Barloworld’s Enrico Degano. As the first man onto the course for the 2007 race, it was great to see the tv producers show us his entire ride. His time of 10 minutes 20 seconds wouldn’t hold for long, but the Italian can at least tell his grand-kids he once led the Tour de France.
The Top 10 on the day – so often a predictor of how the podium will look in three weeks, was a mix of gc hopefuls and short TT specialists.
Aah – the smell of a fresh yellow jersey.
Most notable were:
7. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) – @ 30 seconds – The odds on fave rode a solid race, losing only 17 seconds to his only real rival (at this point) – and team mate Kloden. Vino’s aggressive style, and ability in the long tts and the mountains mean he’s in it to win it.
6. Vladimir Karpets (Caisse d’Epargne): @ 26 seconds – The fast Russian with the slow haircut set the first serious time about half way through the start list. He’s hot off his Tour de Suisse win, and knows how to TT and hang in the mountains. A good day for Vlad.
5. Vladimir Gusev (Discovery) @ 25 seconds – the current Russian TT Champ flew in not long after his countryman with the same first name – looking super steady hurtling his compact self around the circuit in the national champ’s red, white and blue kit. This is his first Tour, so if his form holds he could be a help for Levi or George later on.
4. Bradley Wiggins (Cofidis) @ 23 seconds – One of the great British hopes, especially as his mum lives near the course, the long time track man and Olympic pursuit medalist started near the end and had the hopes of Britain on his shoulders. Alas, even with 3rd at first time check, the 8 second gap to then leader Kloden was too much to shut down. A solid ride but he wanted the win.
3. George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) @ 23 seconds – Disco’s other national champ did his stars & stripes proud with a fast ride worthy of a win on any other day. After getting nicked for the win last year by 1 second, 3rd place was one step in the wrong direction. But it’s a long way to Paris and his form looks good, plus he knows this race better than almost anyone else. Keep your eye on George in the days to come as he goes for the yellow jersey.
2. Andreas Kloden (Astana) @ 13 seconds – To no one’s surprise, Klodi came out flying and slapped down a time that meant business. A ride like this says he’s serious and with a decent performance on stage 7 to the Alps could mean team leadership is his.
1. Fabian Cancellara (CSC) – he ain’t world TT champ for nothing, and proved it today with a ride that just looked faster than anyone else. Even through the turns he left no room to the barriers, and almost ran don his lead motos at one point. Looking a lot heftier than a normal grand tour contender, Fabian was the clear powerhouse today, putting a smile Master Bjarne’s face as he watched the race from nearby. An excellent result for the team, considering gc man Sastre languished in 56 seconds back for 92nd place, while last year’s Alpe d’Huez winner Frank Schleck was further back at 57 seconds.
Cadel Evans went fast enough to land 17th place at 36 seocnds back.
• Much hyped Spaniard Alejandro Valverde was 43 seconds down – not the kind of time any gc contender wants to be giving up to his rivals on the first day. Don’t be surprised if he gains it all back and more though with a daring attack and some gutsy racing. But don’t be surprised either if he loses those gains the day after. His biggest obstacle is the race itself – you gotta finish it to win it.
• Top Brit hope David Millar looked very fast on his all white Scott Plasma tt flyer, but in the end 13th place at 33 seconds was the best he got. Watch for him in some breaks and those two long tts. Millar added: ”In spite of the prologueґs results, Iґm optimistic. It was a nice day and I really gave it everything to clock the best time. But Cancellara was outstanding. Pity Wiggins couldnґt make it in the end, because he was my favourite in case victory eluded me.”
Tomorrow it’s onto the road for stage 1 from London to Canterbury – and lot’s more to come today from Nick O’Brien at roadside, and Chris Carmichael’s analysis.
Stage & GC Results: Tour de France 2007 Prologue – 7.9 km
1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team CSC 8.50 (53.7 km/h)
2. Andreas Klцden (Ger) Astana 0.13
3. George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 0.23
4. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Cofidis – Le Crйdit par Tйlйphone
5. Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 0.25
6. Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse d’Epargne 0.26
7. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana 0.30
8. Thomas Dekker (Ned) Rabobank 0.31
9. Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas 0.32
10. Benoоt Vaugrenard (Fra) Franзaise des Jeux
11. David Zabriskie (USA) Team CSC
12. Josй Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 0.33
13. David Millar (GBr) Saunier Duval – Prodir
14. Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi
15. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 0.35
16. Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz) Astana
17. Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor – Lotto 0.36
18. William Bonnet (Fra) Crйdit Agricole
19. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis – Le Crйdit par Tйlйphone
20. Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile Team 0.37
21. Oscar Pereiro Sio (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
22. Linus Gerdemann (Ger) T-Mobile Team 0.38
23. Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Astana
24. Sйbastien Rosseler (Bel) Quickstep – Innergetic 0.39
25. Rik Verbrugghe (Bel) Cofidis – Le Crйdit par Tйlйphone
26. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 0.40
27. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank
28. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crйdit Agricole 0.41
29. Tomas Vaitkus (Ltu) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 0.42
30. Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Liquigas 0.43