Maybe it was the number 13 on his back – placed upside down for luck – that did it.
The skies cleared a little and the rain which had affected the times of so many of the top riders eased, allowing Fabian Cancellara to oust Tony Martin from the top of the leaderboard. The German might just have been allowing himself to believe the yellow jersey might be his but he would have known not to rule out Cancellara.
Martin, the 25-year-old German with the HTC-Columbia team, will have to settle for the white jersey as best young rider tomorrow. As the 11th man to start the 8.9-kilometre prologue in Rotterdam he set a time of 10 minutes and 10 seconds, then sat back and waited. For more than three hours he stood the test of time but Cancellara was looming.
The Swiss rider is the world time trial champion and a prologue specialist. He won the Tour de France prologue in Liège in 2004 and again in London three years later. Last July he took the longer opening time trial in Monaco. Now he’s added Rotterdam to the list and, with three days in Classics territory coming up, he can possibly look forward to a spell in yellow that stretches all the way to the Alps.
Britain’s David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) turned in a superb ride to finish third. He rode in persistent rain and was the first man for more than an hour to get anywhere near Martin’s time. When he crossed the line Millar bumped another British rider, Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, from second place. Thomas, the newly-crowned national road race champion, also produced a superb time. In the final standings Millar and Thomas stood third and fifth, either side of Lance Armstrong.
The American woke up to renewed coverage of Floyd Landis’s allegations of doping in his old US Postal Service team. The Wall Street Journal published details of alleged blood transfusions performed on Armstrong and some of his old team-mates during the 2004 Tour de France. Such allegations have spread around the internet for years but this was the first time a credible newspaper has named dates and details of doping. Armstrong dismissed the story and channelled his likely anger into a fourth place ride that demonstrated that he has no intention of going quietly.
Armstrong beat Alberto Contador, the defending Tour champion, by five seconds. The Spaniard finished sixth.
The biggest surprise of the day was the time set by Bradley Wiggins, the Team Sky leader. He could manage only 77th place, beaten by all the other overall favourites except Andy Schleck, who was 122nd.
Having been one of the earlier starters, in a bid to avoid the forecast rain, Wiggins actually rode in some of the heaviest rain of the day. It was a tactical decision that backfired but even given his need to back off in the corners to avoid a crash that could have wrecked his Tour on day one, it was a lowly result for one of the best prologue riders in the world.
Prologue: Rotterdam, 8.9km
1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Saxo Bank in 10-00
2. Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Columbia at 10sec
3. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Transitions at 20sec
4. Lance Armstrong (USA) Radioshack at 22sec
5. Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky at 23sec
6. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana at 27sec
7. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Transitions at 28sec
8. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Radioshack at 28sec
9. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Sky at 32sec
10. Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Milram at 35sec
Other key riders
19. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana at 38sec
23. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing at 39sec
70. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervélo at 54sec
72. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas at 55sec
74. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 56sec
77. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky at 56sec
79. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 57sec
113. Steve Cummings (GB) Team Sky at 1-07
122. Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 1-09
126. Charly Wegelius (GB) Omega Pharma at 1-10
127. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Columbia at 1-10
139. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Cervélo at 1-13
177. Daniel Lloyd (GB) Cervélo at 1-23
David Millar placed third
Tony Martin, second
Lance Armstrong, fourth
Winner Fabian Cancellara
Tour de France 2010: Latest news
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Tour de France 2010: Race guide
Tour de France 2010: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index
Official start list, with race numbers
Brits at the Tour 2010
Tout team guide
Tour jerseys: What they are and what they mean
Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Wiggins