Tour de France: Metronomic Wiggins lays down marker for Tour rivals

Time trial specialist Fabian Cancellara claims another yellow jersey but Briton boosts chance of overall victory

Liège

Bradley Wiggins got his Tour de France challenge off to a solid start as he rode to second place in the opening prologue time trial in Liège. Although beaten by the Olympic time trial champion, Fabian Cancellara, Wiggins finished ahead of all of his rivals for final overall victory in the 6.4-kilometre test along the sweeping boulevards of the so-called City of the Prince-Bishops.

Given the brevity of the time trial, the margins between the contenders were accordingly tight, but Wiggins can still be pleased with his afternoon's work. The Sky leader gained 10 seconds on the defending champion, Cadel Evans, 11 on Italy's Vincenzo Nibali and 28 over a lacklustre Frank Schleck.

Perhaps more significant than the time gained, though, was the message delivered. Wiggins's run of victories to date in 2012 had prompted some of his rivals to suggest that the Briton had committed the cardinal error of peaking too soon ahead of the year's main event, but this assured performance suggested otherwise.

The early signs for Wiggins were not promising, however. A study in concentration as he waited on the start ramp on the Avenue Rogier, the Briton quickly tucked into his familiar aerodynamic position once underway, but he trailed Evans by one second at the midway point of the course.

Wiggins had elected to approach the uneven roads of the opening half with due prudence, and such caution was justified as the world time trial champion, Tony Martin, lost his hopes of victory when he punctured after hitting a pothole early on.

Scarcely breaking from his metronomic rhythm throughout, Wiggins began to regain ground on the short rise that climbed from the River Meuse towards the finish, precisely as his rivals were starting to feel the strain of their efforts, and he crossed the line with the day's provisional best time of 7min 20sec.

At that point, with 10 more riders still to finish, it was already clear that only Cancellara – the master of the discipline for the best part of a decade – could threaten Wiggins's time. Along with the Sky team leader, the Swiss rider was the only man to pitch his effort perfectly over the second half of the course, and he duly maintained his seven-second midway lead to the line.

There was no shame for Wiggins in being soundly beaten by a rider of Cancellara's calibre. Starting with victory as a raw 24-year-old in 2004 – also in Liège – Cancellara has never been beaten in a Tour de France prologue in his career, and has now ended the Tour's opening day in yellow on no fewer than five occasions.

"It's phenomenal to win here eight years later, I watched the video of it recently and a lot of things have changed," said Cancellara, whose early season was ruined by a broken collarbone in April. "I'm very proud to take the win after all the problems I've had this year. There was a lot of pressure on me out there."

The old cliché states that the Tour de France is a marathon rather than a sprint, and Wiggins can be quietly pleased with the fledging steps of his three-week endeavour. The 32-year-old has honed his form with a series of lengthy training camps at Mount Teide in Lanzarote under the watchful eye of his Australian coach, Tim Kerrison, who only came to cycling in 2010 after a successful spell at British Swimming.

Their collaboration has been something of a novelty in the sport, with Wiggins prioritising training over racing as a means of sharpening his form ahead of the Tour. With victories at Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and the recent Critérium du Dauphiné, their approach has yielded rich dividends thus far, but the acid test is still to come.

Tipping the balance in Wiggins's favour at the Tour are the 100 kilometres of time trialling featured on the route, an area in which he will expect to build a significant time advantage over his rivals. Wiggins is backed by a redoubtable Sky team, who were hugely dominant at the recent Critérium du Dauphiné.

While the burden of defending the yellow jersey will be carried by Cancellara's RadioShack-Nissan team, Sky's men in black are likely to a constant presence on the front even before the mountains loom into view next weekend, and Edvald Boasson Hagen (5th at 11sec) and Chris Froome (11th at 16sec) were also strong performers in yesterday's prologue.

Sunday's opening road stage, from Liège to nearby Seraing, is a deceptively difficult 198km trek through the Ardennes. As ever in the Tour's early exchanges, space will be at a premium at the head of the peloton, as 198 pairs of fresh legs compete for the best positions, and the short, sharp hills that litter the course are an additional hazard that will require extra vigilance from the overall contenders.

A tough climb to the line on stage one means that Mark Cavendish may have to wait until Monday's flat stage that culminates in Tournai for his first real chance of victory. The world champion finished the prologue in 40th place, and was bullish about his chances of adding to his tally of 20 Tour stage wins this week, even if his Sky team are devoted almost entirely to helping Wiggins become the first Briton in history to win the race outright.

"We're here to win the yellow jersey, we have to do that first and foremost," Cavendish said. "I might not be as dominant as other years, but I think I can win stages, otherwise I wouldn't be here."

Today's stage Liege–Seraing (198 kilometres)

Features nasty little 2.5-kilometre uphill finale. Staying close to the front to avoid splits in the bunch is crucial for Wiggins.

Stage to watch this week Tuesday 3 July: Stage 3 Orchies–Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Crosses rolling wind-blasted plains of northern France with a tough little uphill finish that often features in the region's premier bike race, the Four Days of Dunkirk. Expect crashes and splits in the peloton as the race hits the coast roads and no less than five short punchy climbs in 35 kilometres.

Suggested Topics
News
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
news Sprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Charlotte Brontë, the English novelist, poet and the eldest of the three Bronte sisters who lived into adulthood, has been celebrated with a Google Doodle depicting her most famous novel, Jane Eyre.
arts + ents "Reader, they doodled her".

Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Oxegen in Ireland has been axed as promoters decide it is 'no longer viable'
arts + ents Promoters have axed the event as it is 'no longer viable in current form'
News
The troubled star is set to give fans the biggest insight into her life away from the headlines
people Star made the announcement during the final episode of the programme, entitled Lindsay
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players