This is a guest post by Mr.Q, a professional quizmaster and an ardent Tour de France fan who is reporting his 4th tour
On the streets of Liege, as the prologue of the 99th Tour de France started on time, it was time for the best of the cyclists in the professional circuit to show case the kind of form they were all bringing in, into the tour. With 198 cyclists starting the tour, the crowds had to wait for a few hours before the business end of the tour started, and the man who turned it on was the 197th rider, going by the name of a certain Fabian “Spartacus” Cancellara.
The chrono-king, a four times world champion, was coming back from a serious injury break, where in his shoulder bone was reset after it was broken into 4 separate pieces, when he fell in the Tour of the Flanders earlier in the year. With Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky, a title contender this year, having set the least time around the 6.4km course, just finishing his ride, time to best was very clear for it was Fabulous Fabian (RadioShack-Nissan).
Riding the streets, the same one where in 2004, he started of his Tour debut and bested Lance Armstrong in his prime, Fabulous Fabian shaved off a mind numbing 7 seconds on Wiggo!!He finished the ride of 6.4km in 7.13seconds at an average speed of 53.2km/h. With this effort, Cancellara takes the coveted Yellow Jersey in Tour de France opening day for the fifth time, after his exploits in 2004, 2007, 2009 & 2010 and joins the all time great Bernard Hinault as the only rider to do so!!
After the race he dedicated his strong ride & motivation to fly the streets to his pregnant wife, who has been taking extra care of him in the last few months due to his injury. Speaking to the media after the race he said,”With the past that I’ve had after my crash and a difficult few months, I think that I couldn’t ask for a better beginning than to have another win on the opening day. It’s just great. I’m happy and, most of all, a lot of pressure has gone away.”
On his thoughts during the ride – “I just focused on myself. With Bradley and other riders doing things their way, a time trial – a prologue in particular, is well today it felt like today it was a 6.4km velodrome. It felt like I was in a tunnel, I had to focus on myself, not look left or right or pay attention to other riders. This is what I’ve done. I’m a specialist at doing that and today was another demonstration.”
“It’s always important to win. That’s how it is. And, with the memories of eight years ago, it’s even more special today. I just put everything on the road. It was what I wanted to do today, to win. It’s always exciting…:) When you’re 23 years old and you come to the Tour and win by beating Lance it’s cool, and 8 years later, to show again that you’re still able to handle makes it a great day.”
For the records, it was the Team Astana rider Andriy Grivko who set the first bench mark time on the course with a ride in 7.28sec. (In the end – he was the tenth fastest rider). As with a prologue, most riders were content to give a good shot to the ride, as they knew the best riders will fly around the course and they were all prepping themselves for the next 20 days of riding. It was Sylvain Chavanel of Omega Pharma Quick Step team who finally upped the ante with a ride that befitted his crown as the French Time Trialing Champion, with a time to 7.20secs. A few notable names to finish nearabout’s him were Tejay Van Garderen of BMC Racing team, Edvald Boasson Hagen of Team Sky. Title dark horse Denis Menchov of Katusha also finished with a splendid ride. The local home boy Philippe Gilbert of BMC Racing also gave his 110% on the course, but could not crack the leader board.
Once Bradley Wiggings was off the ramp, it was very apparent that the race for the Champion’s title was on, for he rode a disciplined race, not aiming for the Yellow Jersey, but to keep his time to the shortest limit possible, and in the due course, he found himself right on top of the leader board! But it was short lived as Cancellara powered away with the Yellow Jersey a few minutes later.
Notable was Cadel Evans, the defending champion, who rode to limit his losses on this short course. He finished in 7.30secs, 10secs short of Wiggins.
Two fancied riders in Peter Sagan of Liquigas Cannondale & World Champion Tony Martin of Omega Pharma Quick Step both were felled by technical reasons on the course. Sagan over cooked a turn at a roundabout and had to put his feet down in order not to crash, while Martin had a puncture and had to change his bike to finish his ride.
For those who wanted to enjoy the notable spots around the town, The Plunger, a statue of a diver doing a hand stand and the newly completed railway station looking like a fish from the deep sea are not to be missed.
Tomorrow starts the first stage of this year’s TdF. Stage 1 is from Liege to Seraing, a distance of 198kms. Like in Brittany in 2008 and in Vendée in 2011, the finish of the 1st Stage of the Tour will be judged at the top of a hill after an ascent of 2.5 km. A certain rider by the name of Philippe Gilbert, will be raring to have a go on the final climb and claim a home victory, but watch out for the Yellow jersey of Fabian Cancellara, who might be motivated enough to put in a big ride just as the climb starts to ensure that his jersey is safe for a few more days!!(me thinks, without any mechanical issues / crashes, he can hold on to it for 8-10 days, as there is one more time trial coming up on Stage 9, before heading into the mountains… )
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