LIEGE, Belgium (Reuters) - Bradley Wiggins, sweat dripping from his famous sideburns, went all out to prove he is the man to beat at this year’s Tour de France and was rewarded with a 10-second advantage over his nearest rival after Saturday’s prologue.
Wiggins has been almost unbeatable in time trials this year and although Switzerland’s resurgent Fabian Cancellara robbed the Briton of glory through the hot streets of Liege, Team Sky know second spot is a major marker for the three-week race.
Defending champion Cadel Evans of Australia already trails fellow all-rounder Wiggins by 10 seconds after managing the 6.4 km looped course in seven minutes 30.36.
“I‘m really happy, the legs felt good and I stayed calm and relaxed,” Wiggins told reporters.
”It’s a good start and the main thing was to stay upright, safe and trouble-free.
“Fair play to Fabian, he’s the best in the world at what he does and I think he proved that again today.”
Cancellara led the rest of the pack in the time trial by an astonishing seven seconds but Wiggins’ Team Sky colleagues still had a good day with Edvald Boasson Hagen fifth and Chris Froome 11th.
“Obviously the first priority is to look after Bradley and maybe in doing so there are others to go for the general classification,” Froome said, adding that he would be “fired” if he said having ace sprinter Mark Cavendish in the team was a distraction from helping Wiggins.
Last year’s green jersey winner Cavendish, who is also world champion, found the going tough as expected and finished 41st in the time trial but he is expecting to feel as bad in a hilly first stage to Seraing on Sunday.
“The time I decided to ride I couldn’t do,” he said, panting for breath by the line. “Tomorrow is too hard, Monday is where it starts for us.”
Time-trial world champion Tony Martin of Germany had an even worse day, suffering a puncture when going well and ending up 23 seconds behind rival Cancellara.
“I had to change the bike, I think it was a quick change but it dents morale, it dents rhythm and I‘m very disappointed,” the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider said. (Editing by Alison Wildey)