Fabian Cancellara paraphrased Louis XIV yesterday as laughed off speculation that his recent victories in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix had been achieved with the help of mechanical assistance, declaring “Le moteur, c’est moi!” – “The motor is me!” – after powering his way to the yellow jersey in the Tour de France Prologue in Rotterdam.
The Team Saxo Bank rider’s Specialized bike was one of those scrutinised after the prologue by the UCI, whose scanning equipment happily found no evidence of hidden motors inside the frame.
The World and Olympic Champion narrowly missed being the only rider to complete the course in less than 10 minutes, bettering by ten seconds the time of HTC-Columbia’s Tony Martin, the 11th of 197 starters who had gone out early in a bid to beat the forecast rain.
That tactic paid handsome dividends for the German, with only Cancellara, the penultimate rider on the 8.9km course around the Dutch port city, bettered his time of 10 minutes 10 seconds.
Having watched 185 riders try and fail to better his time prior to the pre-race favourite’s winning ride, Martin had mixed feelings about his second place, telling the Tour de France website: "It was a long wait. I’m glad I had my girlfriend there with me to calm me down. I felt good in the race and it was tense watching all the others come in, wondering if I had done enough. In the end, Fabian was better. That’s how it happens some times.”
However, the 25-year-old, who goes off today in the best young rider’s white jersey, was optimistic about his team’s chances going forward, saying: “We’re in a good position, we have a prize and I’m well placed in the general classification. I came close today and I’m pleased with that but it would have been great to have the yellow jersey.
"The team has the fastest man in the world and Mark [Cavendish] is in great condition. I missed out on the win today but perhaps we can get one tomorrow," he added.
The green jersey will be worn today by Britain’s David Millar, finishing third to record his best Tour de France Prologue performance since taking the maillot jaune at Futuroscope on the opening day of the 2000 race.
Afterwards, the Garmin-Transitions rider claimed “I'm satisfied, I was hoping to go well and, contrary to my usual performances of late, I actually went well. “The wet roads weren't nearly as hazardous as I thought they'd be,” he continued.
“There were one or two corners where I was too cautious. I knew I was going really fast and I didn't want to be slapped off and make a fool of myself. I'm 33 after all.”
Millar managed to have a good look at how the course was performing on the day by following team-mate Tyler Hamilton from the team car. “I followed Tyler and had a look at the course beforehand and I'm blown away by how fast he went,” he explained. “It fills me and, no doubt, our team with confidence for the coming days.”
Meanwhile Bradley Wiggins, whose gamble of going off early to avoid the forecast rain backfired as he was forced to ride an uncharacteristically restrained race in the rain, told the Team Sky website: "Going in a straight line I felt as good as I needed to be. I couldn't push it to the limit in the corners because I couldn't take the risk of losing maybe three or four minutes in a crash.”
Last year’s fourth-placed General Classification explained: “It was about getting round, going through the process, and dialling into the effort. The prologue is so insignificant in the three weeks; you can lose seconds here, but [the time differences are] going to be minutes in three weeks’ time."
Team Principal Dave Brailsford backed Wiggins’ view that yesterday’s result needed to be viewed in the context of what is, after all, a three-week race, who said: "Bradley went out in the rain and we didn't want him to take any unnecessary risks. It's the start of a long race and losing 20, 30, or 40 seconds at this point isn't a major thing at all."
Hopefully, he’s right. But the 34 seconds that the Team Sky rider lost yesterday to Lance Armstrong is not much less than the 37 seconds that separated the riders – and Wiggins from a podium place – when the race finished in Paris last year.
Brailsford, however, was effusive about the performance of Geraint Thomas, who posted the fifth best time of the day. “It was a phenomenal ride by Geraint to take fifth today,” he said.
“When you see him splitting Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador it underlines the quality that the lad has. We've known for a long time that he's a real class bike rider and he proved that today in quite difficult circumstances,” continued Brailsford. “He committed himself and was absolutely brilliant."
Today’s Stage 1 takes the peloton 223.5km from Rotterdam to the Brussels, with the riders first heading South West along the North Sea coast before swinging South East towards the Belgian border, and the weather could well play a key role.
It’s forecast to be sunny and warm, but a 15mph Westerly wind could see echelons forming, reminiscent of the stage into La Grande Motte last year when Mark Cavendish won, meaning that Team Saxo Bank may need to keep their guard at the front of the race to ensure that the yellow jersey gets into any split.
Should the field enter the Belgian capital together, the stage is set for a bunch sprint, with the finish line at the end of the longest closing straight on this year’s race, the lyrical-sounding Avenue Houba de Strooper.
It’s the Tour’s 12th visit to the Brussels, making it the most-visited city outside France, although the last stage finish there was 18 years ago in 1992, won by Laurent Jalabert. Other stage winners there include Bernard Hinault and Freddy Maertens, and by 4.30pm UK time this afternoon we’ll know the latest name to join that roll of honour.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.