Fabian Cancellara, the Swiss Olympic champion, overcame the weather and 196 rivals to ride through the streets of Rotterdam to seize the Tour de France yellow jersey yesterday in the prologue. The world and Olympic champion had been the favourite for the 8.9-kilometre stage, but rain threatened to change things. However Cancellara, riding for Saxo Bank and the winner of this year's Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix classics, was again an example of Swiss precision and timing, winning in 10 minutes exactly. It was his fourth prologue victory on the Tour.
Tony Martin, of HTC-Columbia, opted for an early start and led for much of the day before finally settling for second, 10 seconds behind. Britain's David Millar, riding for Garmin-Transitions, was third in 10.20, two seconds ahead of seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong, riding for RadioShack. Geraint Thomas, a Welshman with Team Sky, completed the top five, with reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador of Astana in sixth.
England's Bradley Wiggins, one of the favourites for the short time trial, finished far off the pace in 77th place. Martin, who is considered one of Germany's future challengers honours, appeared to have been handed a huge slice of luck when he got to start 11th. 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 were preparing to start. "I did the race yesterday when it was dry but I decided to do a lap in the car before the prologue," Cancellara said. "To see the course in the wet was quite important. Cancellara, who was recently at the centre of controversy after claims he might have used a mini-engine in his bike for key victories earlier this spring, took full advantage to take the provisional lead at the halfway point.
Meanwhile, Cevelo TestTeam announced that Xavier Florencio has been suspended from competition for using a substance containing the banned stimulant Ephedrine. * Agencies