It was business as usual for Fabian Cancellara in the opening stage one time trial of the Tour de Suisse, but only just. Cancellara (SaxoBank) finally squeaked across the finish line a bare second ahead of Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) for one of the narrowest time trial victories of his career.
This year’s opening race against the clock for the nine-day race, just 7.6 kilometres long and consisting of a draggy ascent and a long, fast drop back into the town of Lugano was by no means straightforward.
And at the summit checkpoint, Cancellara was already eight seconds down on HTC-Columbia’s Tony Martin, which meant the 30-year-old World Time Trial Champion was going to have to fight hard if he wanted to acheive his pre-race objective of winning the prologue.
However, Cancellara turned on the power with a vengeance on the fast descent, in a performance reminiscent of his race-winning ride in Monaco at the Tour de France last year.
The road surfaces were treacherous, though, and even the Swiss rider slowed to a near stand-still on the final big bend before blasting away on the straighter final kilometre.
Cancellara’s comeback from so far behind at the mid-way checkpoint was always going to be close, and he made it with a second to spare. It was one of his closest victories since he took the yellow jersey of the Tour de France by just two seconds over a certain Lance Armstrong at the prologue in Liege, way back in 2004.
As for Armstrong, the RadioShack leader, who won the 2001 prologue of Suisse en route to winning it overall, was far more off the pace than perhaps expected, finishing 29 seconds back in 44th place. But the American was not the only Tour contender unwilling to take risks on the dangerous descents.
Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) finished 31st, 24 seconds down, whilst Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Transitions), riding his first race back since he crashed at the Tour of Italy, finished 164th out of 167 starters, 1-33 down.
If the weeding out process has already started in a much tougher Tour de Suisse than usual, Sunday’s 167 kilometre stage from Ascona to Sierre should continue it, with a first category climb mid-way through and a third category ascent close to the finish.