Rohan Dennis of BMC Racing has set a new record speed for a Tour de France stage to become the first wearer of the yellow jersey in the 102nd edition of the Tour de France.
Earlier this year, the Australian briefly held the UCI Hour Record, and in completing today’s 13.8km stage in Utrecht at an average speed of 55.4kph, he beats the 55.2kph set over a shorter prologue course by Chris Boardman in Lille in 1994.
The 25-year-old, who in January won the overall at the Tour Down Under, put in a time of 14 minutes 56 seconds which Tony Martin of Etixx-Quick Step or Trek Factory Racing’s Fabian Cancellara were able to beat.
He had a two and a half hour wait, however, to find out whether he had clinched the stage and with it the race lead, having chosen to go for an early departure slot that made him the 38th of 198 riders to tackle the course.
The two former time trial world time trial champions finished second and third respectively, with Martin 5 seconds off the lead and Cancellara a further second back.
The leading British rider was Steve Cummings of MTN-Qhubeka, who finished the stage 32 seconds down on Dennis in 10th place.
Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas was 12th, with Alex Dowsett of Movistar – who regained the British national time trial title last week – 13th.
Over what was a relatively short course for an individual time trial – the only such stage in this year’s race – seconds rather than minutes separated the overall contenders.
Among the four men expected to fight for this year’s victory, Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali fared best.
The Italian finished 22nd, 43 seconds down on Dennis, but 7 seconds ahead of Sky’s Chris Froome, 15 seconds up on Tinkoff-Saxo’s Alberto Contador, and 18 seconds clear of Movistar’s Nairo Quintana.
Nibali was one place ahead of his Astana team mate Lars Boom, who has acted as an ambassador for the Utrecht Grand Depart but risked being excluded from the start today after pre-race medical checks found he had low levels of cortisol.
As a member of the Movement for Credible Cycling, Astana should have suspended Boom from racing for eight days to protect his health.
However, the Kazakh outfit allowed him to start, and the Dutch rider was clearly overcome with emotion as he rolled down the starting ramp.
BMC Racing's Rohan Dennis, winner in Utrecht and leader of the 102nd Tour de France:
It was nerve-wracking watching the screen. I didn't except to go that fast time-wise. When I get to back to the bus, I was told that it was the quickest time trial by my friend back in Adelaide. So that was a nice little bonus, you could say.
We went with the tactic of going off early – no stress, you don't have to sit around all day and just set a benchmark and make everyone else chase me. It worked out perfectly. Tour de France, yellow jersey - it's a dream. I have always wished to be in this position and now I am.
Tony Martin of Etixx-Quick Step, who finished second:
I knew starting the Tour de France with this time trial was a great chance for myself and the team to possibly wear the yellow jersey in Utrech.
I did the best preparation possible to be at this race at 100 per cent. I had great support from the team and the staff around me, so I could really focus on the race.
But today I was struggling a little bit with the heat. It was not easy to warm up on the rollers and then riding 15 minutes in the heat.
Even in the second half I was already tired. I'm used to warming up after 5 to 7 kilometers, and then my race starts. But today I couldn't really change rhythm. I was doing my best to go until the finish.
I am sure in different weather circumstances I could do better. Still, considering everything, to still finish 2nd I am happy about it. I always want to win, but today I found a great Rohan Dennis who deserved the victory.
There is still a big opportunity for yellow in the next days. Everyone knows this first week will be crazy and we have for sure one of the strongest and best teams for the parcours of the next days.
So, yes, I am disappointed, but the Tour de France has only just begun. I have a great team around me that will further boost my morale, for sure.
Trek Factory Racing's Fabian Cancellara, third today:
It was very tiring. The heat was demanding for everyone but even more with a time trial helmet.
I did all I could but Rohan has been the best. I've lost some mini seconds in a curve or two but it hasn't made that difference.
It was an important race for me because I didn't get a chance to ride the Classics this year. But it's no big deal. I've won a fair bit in my career. I race for fun and the Tour is long. There'll be other occasions, I'm sure of that.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.