Doping cloud hangs heavy over Tour opener
Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara won the prologue of the sport’s premier event.
LONDON (AP) — Under a cloud of doping and suspicion that threatens all of cycling, Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara won the prologue of the Tour de France as the sport’s premier event began Saturday with heavy security and a distinct British accent.
Cancellara, the world time-trial champion who also won the Tour prologue in 2004, completed the 4.9-mile race through downtown London in 8 minutes, 50 seconds. He is strictly a time-trial rider and is not expected to compete for the overall title in the three-week race.
“I am really happy, that’s for sure,” said Cancellara, who will wear the leader’s yellow jersey for today’s first stage from London to Canterbury. “I will do the maximum to defend it.”
Andreas Kloeden of Germany was 13 seconds behind in second place, followed by George Hincapie of the United States, 23 seconds behind the leader. Britain’s Bradley Wiggins, looking to bring the home fans a victory, was fourth.
And they’re off
With cyclists zooming past such landmarks as Parliament and Buckingham Palace and through Hyde Park, the 189 riders set off one by one in the race against the clock.
The race started two years to the day since suicide bombers killed 52 people on London’s public transit network and as the country confronts a new wave of terrorism.
At least 4,500 officers from London’s Metropolitan Police provided security, along with officers from other forces and a small unit of the French gendarmerie. The last time the Tour came to Britain was in 1994, when an estimated 2 million people crowded the route.
Saturday’s ride took place a cloudy day with patches of sunlight, beginning a 2,120-mile trek that will feature six mountain hikes, three summit finishes and two individual time trials.
Stuart O’Grady of Australia took a spill after hitting a straw barrier coming out of a turn, losing time as he hopped on a new bike that was delivered from a trailing support car.
“It’s a shame. I was feeling good, but that’s sport,” O’Grady said. “You win some, you lose some.”
Cancellara’s victory will brighten the mood at his Team CSC. Its sporting director, Bjarne Riis, said Thursday he isn’t attending the Tour. In May, Riis admitted using EPO on way to winning the Tour in 1996, immediately becoming an outcast of sorts among race officials.
“What’s really hard is when we saw that he’s not with us on the Tour, but everybody’s holding up,” Cancellara said. “Today was a very important day for the team.”
“There are a lot of problems in cycling, but I want to look to the future,” Cancellara said. “And if you keep looking back at the past, of course, it’s hard.”
Cancellara was unshaven for the prologue, and it had nothing to do with strategy or superstition. He lost his luggage at Heathrow Airport and didn’t have his razor.