Cancellara Draws First Blood in Tour de France
Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) has drawn first blood in the Tour de France. The Olympic time trial champion bested the field to take the 15.5-km, technical, hilly time trial in Monaco in 19:32. Alberto Contador (Astana) finished second at 0:18, and Bradley Wiggins (Garmin) took third at 0:19.
Lance Armstrong (Astana) set the early standard. The seven-time Tour winner, who elected to start early because of bad weather in the forecast, posted a 20:12. The Texan appeared strong and in shape, even after three and a half years away from cycling and four years away from the Tour.
Tony Martin (Columbia) eclipsed Armstrong by riding a 20:05. The German, however, did not lead for long. Levi Leipheimer, Armstrong's teammate, trailed Martin at the 7.5-km checkpoint but blitzed the downhill and flat sections of the course to post a 20:02.
Leipheimer won a time trial bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics, so his time made a statement. It was a potential winner, and it withstood a number of assaults. Roman Kreuzinger (Liquigas), the Czech wunderkind, mounted the most serious of these assaults, coming within 0:02 of the American. The field's elite, however, had not started.
Andreas Kloeden (Astana) is one of the Tour's elite. The German powered over the course and posted a 19:54, relegating Leipheimer to second place. About 45 minutes later, Wiggins took the lead with a 19:51. Five minutes after that, Contador, who was riding for his leadership place in Astana as well as for his place in the general classification, powered home with a 19:50. And then there was Cancellara.
Early in the season, injuries and illness hamstrung Cancellara. He won the Tour de Suisse, however, and served notice that he had returned to form. The Saxo Bank rider trailed Contador by 0:02 at the 7.5-km checkpoint, but overtook the Spaniard on the second half of the course to win.
"It was a fantastic victory and I am immensely happy to be wearing the yellow jersey after the initial time trial for the third time in my Tour de France history. I was aware that being the favorite to win heavy expectations were on my shoulders but I work well under pressure. I had a perfect charging prior to the race, the team has given me the necessary peace, and today was just about doing what I do best. I am obviously looking very much forward to starting in the leader’s jersey tomorrow”, said a delighted Fabian Cancellara after his supreme victory.
Riders other than the winner had things to fight for. Cadel Evans (Silence), Tour runner-up in 2007 and 2008, rode a 19:55, which was good for fifth. Defending champion Carlos Sastre (Cervelo), who is not a stellar time trialist, posted a 20:38. He had to keep his competitors reasonably close, and he succeeded in doing so.
Cancellara leads Contador by 0:18 and Wiggins at 0:19. Stage 2 will be a rolling, 187-km run from Monaco to Brignoles. The sprinters' teams should be able to control the race enough for a sprinter to win it. Who will prevail? Mark Cavendish (Columbia)? Thor Hushovd (Cervelo)? Daniele Bennati (Liquigas)? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!