Briton Bradley Wiggins has come within seconds of taking the opening prologue of Paris-Nice. The Garmin rider was finally beaten by top overall favourite Alberto Contador.
The winner of Paris-Nice in 2007, Contador powered round the flat and largely untechnical course in Amilly to finish seven seconds ahead of Wiggins and nine ahead of another overall contender, Luis Leon Sanchez. (Caisse D?Epargne).
The 9.3 kilometre prologue was severely affected by bad weather throughout the whole of the afternoon.
But the rain could not stop leading favourite Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) from clocking a superb time of 11-24 early on. The Frenchman?s time stood for nearly over an hour, until Wiggins was 11 seconds faster.
There was no stopping Contador, though as he powered to the third stage win of his career in Paris-Nice. Finally Wiggins was second, with Garmin team-mate David Millar taking fifth.
Barred from the race in 2008 because of Astana?s doping problems in the previous season, Contador is clearly determined to put in a good performance on his return to Paris-Nice in 2009.
Already the winner of the Tour of the Algarve time trial stage and overall this season, Contador?s victory in the Paris-Nice prologue masssively confirms his status as leading favourite.
Paris-Nice was won by less than five seconds last year, and Contador?s third stage victory in the race has already put a small but possibly signifcant difference between himself and the rest of his rivals. Could Contador become the eleventh rider in Paris-Nice history to lead the race from beginning to end?
It?s too early to say, but Monday?s stage of Paris-Nice will begin to answer that question.
Stage one is 195.5 kilometres long, running from Saint-Brisson-sur-Loire to La-Chapelle-Saint-Ursin, and after a lumpy middle section is completely flat for the last seventy kilometres.
It should almost certainly end in a bunch sprint, then, but there?s always the risk of strong cross-winds and echelons in the early stages of Paris-Nice. After Contador?s strong start, his rivals will be keen to try to ambush him, and the Spaniard will have to keep his wits about him.
PARIS-NICE PROLOGUE: RESULTS
1 Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana 9.3km in 11min 05sec
2 Bradley Wiggins (GB) Garmin at 7sec
3 Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse D?Epargne at 11sec
4 Tony Martin (Ger) Columbia-Highroad same time
5 David Millar (GB) Garmin at 12sec
6 Joost Posthuma (Hol) Rabobank at 18sec
7 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step at 19sec
8 Tony Colom (Spa) Katusha at 19sec
9 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Katusha at 21sec
10 Remi Pauriol (Fra) Cofidis at 22sec
67 Jeremy Hunt (GB) Cervélo at 47sec
149 Dan Fleeman (GB) Cervélo at 1min 18sec
Bradley Wiggins: only Contador could beat him
David Millar was a fine fifth
Alberto Contador takes the yellow Paris-Nice leader’s jersey after winning the prologue
Official race website – www.letour.fr
PARIS-NICE 2008: STAGE REPORTS