Late downpour puts skids under some main contenders, but Wiggins storms round to almost beat Swede

Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky put in a storming time trial ride in the rain this afternoon to take second place in Stage 1 of Paris-Nice behind Gutsav Larsson of Vacansoleil-DCM, with Levi Leipheimer of Omega Pharma-Quick Step third. Unlike Wiggins, both those riders had set their times on a dry 9.4km course, and among the late starters only Wiggins and BMC Racing's Tejay Van Garderen, who finished fourth, came close to challenging them. Last man out, world time trial champion and 2011 Paris-Nice winner Tony Martin of Omega Pharma-Quick Step finished 28th, some 25 seconds down on Larsson.

The Swede's time, set with nearly 100 of the 176 starters still to roll off the ramp in Dampierre-en-Yvelines, looked like it would be enough to secure the 31-year-old time trial specialist, a silver medallist at both the Olympics and the World Championships, a place towards the top of the standings, but it looked beatable. Once the rain started to come down, however, most of those starting late on took it cautiously on the wet surface.

"We made the right choice by starting in the middle of the field," acknowledged Larsson afterwards. "It was much better than for the guys at the end.

"I wasn’t really sure of myself because it was only my second race this season," he continued. "My legs were very hard, but as good as they were, it did it.

"It’s a really good moment, it’s not the Olympics, it’s not the worlds, the Giro stage was pretty good," he added. "But Paris-Nice is a great race to be in the lead of.

"We will see how it goes for the jersey. It’s very hard when you get to the big mountains but we will try to hang on to it as long as possible," Larsson concluded.

With a second time trial of a similar distance to today's parcours bringing the race to a close next Sunday on the Col d'Eze above Nice, Wiggins has every reason to be satisfied with his afternoon's work, which gives him a big cushion over many of his rivals for the overall title in the eight-stage race.

While the Tour de France may be four months away, today's performance by Wiggins also marks a psychological victory over one of his chief rivals there,

Andy Schleck, who was exactly a minute slower. Schleck, last month awarded the 2010 Tour de France title following Alberto Contador's disqualification, insists he wants to win cycling's biggest race on the road, but with more than 100 kilometres of time trialling in this year's edition, the RadioShack Nissan rider may face an impossible task this summer at least.

Today’s stage, at 9.4 kilometres too long to be classified as a prologue, took place in the Chevreuse national park a few kilometres southwest of Paris, and featured the Category 3 climb of the Côte des 17 Tournants inside the opening 2 kilometres, which on any other weekend would be tackled by club riders from the French capital and its surrounding region rather than  some of the sport’s biggest names.

Vacansoleil-DCM’s Thomas De Gendt, winner of the opening stage last year and the 34th rider out on the course, set the benchmark time of 11:31 for the 9.4km course, which stood until beaten by his team mate Larsson.

De Gendt would eventually finish in a surprisingly high fifth place, he too benefitting from the impact the wet roads had on the ability of the late starters to challenge. De Gendt also set the quickest time over that climb, and will wear the polka dot jersey on tomorrow's Stage 2.

Paris-Nice Stage 1 result  

1  LARSSON Gustav      VACANSOLEIL-DCM           00:11:19
2  WIGGINS Bradley     SKY PROCYCLING         at 00:00:01
4  VAN GARDEREN Tejay  BMC RACING TEAM           00:00:09
5  DE GENDT Thomas     VACANSOLEIL-DCM           00:00:12
7  TAARAMAE Rein       COFIDIS                   00:00:13
8  IRIZAR Markel       RADIOSHACK-NISSAN         00:00:13
9  PAURIOL Rémi        FDJ-BIGMAT                00:00:15
10 COPPEL Jérôme       SAUR-SOJASUN              00:00:15
11 BOONEN Tom          OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP   00:00:15
12 VOIGT Jens          RADIOSHACK-NISSAN         00:00:17
13 GRETSCH Patrick     PROJECT 1T4I              00:00:17
14 HUSHOVD Thor        BMC RACING TEAM           00:00:17
15 MONFORT Maxime      RADIOSHACK-NISSAN         00:00:17
16 PORTE Richie        SKY PROCYCLING            00:00:17
17 GUTIERREZ José Ivan MOVISTAR TEAM             00:00:18
18 PHINNEY Taylor      BMC RACING TEAM           00:00:19
19 WESTRA Lieuwe       VACANSOLEIL-DCM           00:00:20
20 BARREDO Carlos      RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM     00:00:21

Paris-Nice overall standings after Stage 1  

1  LARSSON Gustav      VACANSOLEIL-DCM             11' 19"
2  WIGGINS Bradley     SKY PROCYCLING            + 00' 01"
4  VAN GARDEREN Tejay  BMC RACING TEAM           + 00' 09"
5  DE GENDT Thomas     VACANSOLEIL-DCM           + 00' 12"
6  CHAVANEL Sylvain    OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP   + 00' 12"
7  TAARAMAE Rein       COFIDIS                   + 00' 13"
8  IRIZAR Markel       RADIOSHACK-NISSAN         + 00' 13"
9  PAURIOL Rémi        FDJ-BIGMAT                + 00' 15"
10 COPPEL Jérôme       SAUR-SOJASUN              + 00' 15"

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.