Olympic Time Trial champion Fabian Cancellara (Saxobank) destroyed all competitors today in the opening stage of the 2009 Tour de France, a 15.5-kilometer time trial in the Principality of Monaco.
The course featured a short but steep climb halfway at the halfway point. It was a course for a strong, powerful rider like Cancellara, which required power to get up the climb and even more strength to set blistering speeds of up to 60 mph on the descent.
Riders started one-by-one in 90-second intervals. Early in the day, many eyes were on Team Astana. Lance Armstrong, riding his first Tour de France since his comeback, set a very respectable time of 20:12. That time would hold for a bit, but others soon set their sights on it. Armstrong finished the day in a good tenth place.
His own teammate, Levi Leipheimer, soon bettered that time, coming in at 20:02. That time looked hard to beat for nearly half an hour, but yet another Astana rider, Andreas Kloden, bettered the time yet again, with 19:54.
The last starters made their way onto the road, and the big guns looking to win the day soon made their intentions known.
Olympic track champion Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream) bettered Kloden's time by two seconds, but that wouldn't hold up for long. The riders behind meant business.
2009 Giro d'Italia winner Denis Menchov (Rabobank) set off, followed by Fabian Cancellara, Spanish TT champ Alberto Contador (Astana), Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) and defending Tour champion Carlos Sastre (Cervelo).
Fabian Cancellara was slightly behind on the intermediate checkpoint at the top of the climb, but the 180-pound time-triallist is not known for his climbing. He was intent on making up time on the descent.
Meanwhile, Tour hopeful Alberto Contador was making quick work on the climb and set the best intermediate time to that point. Cadel Evans could not match Contador's effort.
Coming into the finish, Cancellara demolished Wiggins's time by nearly 20 seconds and moved squarely into the lead. As many expected, the course was perfectly suited to the two-time World TT champion. He even caught Denis Menchov, a well respected time-triallist, on the road, closing the 90-second starting advantage.
But behind, Contador was showing the world that he is the leader of the strongest team in the race. Despite being only 140 pounds and known predominantly for his climbing, the Spaniard finished in second place, less than 20 seconds behind Cancellara.
Cancellara gets to wear the first yellow jersey of the Tour, a jersey he may well keep for the next few days. This is the third time in his career that he was won the Tour's opening time trial.
Contador, however, already put some serious time into his direct rivals for the overall classification. He is only six seconds ahead of Evans, but 40 seconds ahead of Andy Schleck (Saxobank), 55 seconds ahead of Sastre, and 1:10 ahead of Menchov, who had a bad day.
Team Astana is touted as the world's best stage-racing team, and with their four star riders all filling out the top-10 today, it is hard to deny that fact.
While the Tour cannot be won on day one, they have put themselves in a dominant position to lead as the race continues on.
Tomorrow's Stage Two takes riders on a 187-kilometer jaunt from Monaco to the city of Brignoles, featuring some rolling hills, but will be a stage for the sprinters. Look for Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC) to try and take the first sprinting stage, but he will be fighting against other established sprinters such as Belgian-champion Tom Boonen (QuickStep), Thor Hushovd (Cervelo), and Oscar Friere (Rabobank).