Tour Newcomer Leads the Charge
The 2004 Tour de France kicked off with a 3.8-mile prologue course through the streets of Liège, Belgium Saturday. In his first Tour, 23-year-old Fabian Cancellara of the Fassa Bortolo team took the stage in 6:50.94, while five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong came out firing, taking second place and winning the psychological battle of the prologue over rivals Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile), Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Tyler Hamilton (Phonak), Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros), and Ivan Basso (CSC).
Fabian Cancellara wins the Tour prologueFabian Cancellara wins the Tour prologue
Ullrich posted a time of 7:07.40 (16th place), Hamilton came in at 7:08:83 (18th), Mayo posted a time of 7:11.51 (26th) and former Armstrong lieutenant Heras posted a time of 7:27.02 (104th).
Armstrong has won the prologue twice, in both 1999 and 2002. Although not considered a major point in the Tour, the prologue serves as a pace-setting opportunity for psychological victory.
José Ivan Gutierrez (Illes Balears-Banesto), Bradley Mc Gee, (FDJeux.com), and Thor Hushovd, (Crédit Agricole) rounded out the top five while Americans Bobby Julich (CSC) and George Hincapie, (U.S. Postal Service) placed ninth and tenth respectively.
The course is a flat, fast route through the city streets of Liège with two near dead-stop turns, a section over cobblestones and a run of highway running close to the Meuse River.
The big news off the bike concerned Australian Team Cofidis rider Matthew White, who broke his collarbone in Liège in a training ride Saturday before the prologue’s start. He was ultimately replaced by Belgian rider Peter Farazijn. The blow to Cofidis came on the heels of the Friday announcement that British rider and Team Cofidis member David Millar admitted to a French judge that he had used the performance enhancing drug EPO, according to Agence France Press. This was one of the biggest blows to the cycling world in years. Millar, who finished second in last year’s Paris prologue, was disqualified from the Tour de France and pulled out of the Athens Games in which he had hopes of winning a gold medal for the British Olympic team. Millar could be banned from the sport for as little as eight months to as long as a year.
The Tour de France resumes tomorrow with Stage 1 running from Liège to Charleroi, Belgium.