Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland won the Tour de France prologue for a fifth time on Saturday, dominating the time trial around the gritty city of Liege.
“What a great opening — again!” he said after his seven-second win.
Britain’s Bradley Wiggins was second over the winding 6.4km course, while France’s Sylvain Chavanel was third, also seven seconds back.
Cadel Evans of Australia began his title defense in 13th place, 17 seconds behind the Swiss winner.
The race harkened back to Cancellara’s first Tour prologue victory in the same Belgian city in 2004, and over a similar course. The four-time time trial world champion has also won every Tour opening-day time trial on foreign soil — in London in 2007, Monaco in 2009 and Rotterdam in 2010.
At the first time check, around the midway point, Cancellara led Chavanel by one second, then accelerated to the finish.
Despite jittery first-day nerves, only a few riders ran into mishaps. Tony Martin, one of the world’s best time-trial riders, was the day’s highest-profile casualty: The German rider got a flat tire, raised his hand to his team staffers, and had to change bikes — and crossed 15 seconds back of Chavanel, who was leading up to that point.
Promising young Slovak rider Peter Sagan briefly skipped off the road and lost time.
The victory offered a bright spot for Cancellara’s RadioShack Nissan Trek team, which is without its leader Andy Schleck of Luxembourg — out nursing a spinal injury sustained in the Criterium du Dauphine this month. The team is also without manager Johan Bruyneel, who has been listed in a US Anti-Doping Agency doping case also focusing on seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong.
Cancellara said the victory, which he dedicated to his pregnant wife, was doubly rewarding because he broke his collarbone in the Tour of Flanders in April.
As defending champion, Evans had the honor of riding last among the 198 competitors who rolled down the starter’s ramp for the race against the clock in the cycling-crazed city, where untold thousands of fans lined the route.
Yesterday’s first stage takes riders over a mostly flat, 198km loop from Liege to the nearby town of Seraing.