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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

91st Tour de France - July 3-25, 2004

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Prologue - Saturday July 3: Prologue, Liege ITT, 6.1 km

Commentary by Chris Henry, with additional reporting from Jeff Jones and Tim Maloney

Complete live report

Live coverage starts: 16:00 CEST
Estimated finish time: 19:15 CEST

15:50 CEST   
Welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the 91st Tour de France! The race begins today with a short, fast prologue time trial in Liège, Belgium. The first rider to begin is Pierre Bourquenoud (RAGT Semences-MG Rover), and naturally the last rider will be defending champion and five-time winner Lance Armstrong (US Postal Service). Huge crowds have assembled in Liège. The weather is turning for the worse just before the start as storm clouds roll in and the wind picks up.

15:59 CEST   
The unfortunate news in the moments before the prologue start is the crash of Matt White (Cofidis). White fell while training on the course after his rear wheel slipped on a cable crossing the road. He wasn't wearing a helmet and hit his head when he went down, and is also said to have broken his collarbone. A tough blow for White who had finally arrived to race his first Tour.

16:11 CEST   
The Tour has begun and the riders are taking off every minute to tackle the prologue. Rain has started to fall in Liège, which could make conditions more difficult even if the course is not overly technical.

16:15 CEST   
Peter Farazijn has been called as the last minute replacement for Matt White in the Cofidis team. Farazijn is in fact making a mad dash to Liège, he is still about 60km away and has roughly an hour to make it to the start to be able to take White's place in the race. White's start time was 5:14pm.

16:16 CEST   
The weather, which will likely be in a state of flux throughout the day, has improved for the moment. The rain has stopped and the course is basically dry.

16:20 CEST   
Ireland's Mark Scanlon (Ag2r-Prévoyance) holds the early best time, covering the 6.1km in 7 minutes 18 seconds. This is Scanlon's first Tour, and he is also bound for Athens as part of the Irish national team.

16:31 CEST   
T-Mobile's Colombian Santiago Botero has come across with a time of 7'19. Botero is more of a man for the long time trials, but will still be looking to make amends for a rather lacklustre season last year. This year he returns with T-Mobile to help guide Jan Ullrich to overall victory.

It's still dry in Liège, with a temperature of 16 degrees, a bit cooler than forecast.

16:36 CEST   
Per Tour regulations, substitutes can be made right up to the last moment in cases of illness or accident, as in the case of Matt White, who may or may not be replaced by Peter Farazijn depending on whether or not the Belgian can arrive in time for the start. Euskaltel-Euskadi, on the other hand, could not replace Gorka Gonzalez because he failed the pre-race medical check with an elevated hematocrit level.

Russian Vladimir Karpets is on the course now for Illes Balears-Banesto. The wind has been shifting throughout the afternoon, changing from a mostly favorable wind at the finish to more of a headwind. Much of the course is still sheltered by the buildings in Liège.

16:41 CEST   
Walter Beneteau (Brioches La Boulangère) has finished his ride. By no means a prologue specialist, his take on the prologue course is that it's one for the rouleurs. Not overly technical, it's a course for the powerful men.

T-Mobile's Erik Zabel has just taken the start. Sprinters often make good prologue riders given the short, power-intensive nature of the race. In a race like the Tour there is added motivation that a top prologue place could translate into a yellow jersey if a sprinter can win one or two stages early in the race and benefit from time bonuses.

Karpets has just set the best time, 7'12.

16:43 CEST   
The sun is back out and Andrea Peron (CSC) has just topped Karpets' time by a handful of seconds. Peron was also a last minute entry in the Tour, replacing Jörg Jaksche who fell and broke his arm in training last week.

16:46 CEST   
The hairprin
Photo ©: Jeff Jones/Cyclingnews
US Postal's Viatcheslav Ekimov is cruising along the course, having passed the hairpin bend roughly at the halfway point. Ekimov is the reigning Olympic time trial champion and a former specialist in the pursuit. He will likely be aiming to set an early marker for Lance Armstrong to use as a reference.

Meanwhile, hometown hero Rik Verbrugghe is out on the course to the great satisfaction of the Belgian crowd.

17:00 CEST   
Angel Vicioso now holds the provisional best time for Liberty Seguros. He's come across in 7'05, as riders continue to inch back toward the 7 minute mark.

17:05 CEST   
Now we have the youngest rider in the Tour, Filippo Pozzato (Fassa Bortolo) looking very smooth as he flies through the course.

The sun is still out, which makes for good news for the riders. The wind isn't making their job easy but the course is still fast. The crowds are huge in Liège, lined 2-3 deep along the entire length of the course.

17:16 CEST   
Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) has set the new best time, just one second past the seven minute mark. Pereiro and the Spanish contingent of Phonak have been performing very well in the weeks leading up to the Tour and will be crucial support men for Tyler Hamilton's bid at overall victory.

17:18 CEST   
Michele Bartoli (Team CSC) begins his effort now. Though not a contender for any overall honors at the Tour, Bartoli may take a little inspiration from the Tour's Belgian start, given his long history of success in the northern classics.

17:25 CEST   
Huge crowds
Photo ©: Jeff Jones/Cyclingnews
Jimmy Casper took the start time of Matt White, permitting Farazijn (who has arrived) to start later and not be stuck with an early time penalty in the mad dash to replace White.

"It wasn't a problem, I'm a guy who doesn't stress that easily," Casper said of his changed start time (and shortened warmup).

Casper will be looking for stage wins in the early week sprints, and will also work to help Stuart O'Grady in his battle for the green jersey.

17:27 CEST   
Marco Velo (Fasssa Bortolo) looks to be having a rough go in his prologue. He's taken a spill and was forced to change to a normal road bike to finish his ride. He comes across in a time of 7'40, 69th spot for the moment.

17:30 CEST   
Another popular Belgian, Marc Wauters of Rabobank, has taken the start. Pereiro still holds the top time as the recent wave of riders has been unable to crack the top five.

17:37 CEST   
Marc Wauters has put in a good time, 7'09 for a provisional sixth place.

Two sprinters are out on the road right now, Ag2r's Jaan Kirsipuu and Gerolsteiner's Danilo Hondo.

17:41 CEST   
The top five is holding for the moment with Pereiro still laying claim to the fastest time. While there is no single favorite for today, Brad McGee is the likely man to beat. McGee, though he doesn't like to call himself a "prologue specialist" won the Tour prologue last year and the Giro d'Italia prologue this year, on his way to a top ten place overall in Italy. McGee's good form continued with a win at the Route du Sud, and he could repeat his prologue win here today.

17:45 CEST   
Hondo has come across with a very good time of 7'09, which will probably put him amongst best times for the sprinters.

Lance Armstrong's right-hand man, George Hincapie, has hit the road. Hincapie has been a key member of the US Postal team during each of Armstrong's five victories. Directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel has often said that within the team, Hincapie and Ekimov are the pillars of the Tour team and their place is all but assured each year. This year Hincapie took overall victory in the Three Days of De Panne.

17:49 CEST   
Hincapie looks very smooth as he sweeps through the hairpin bend. He has to adjust his line a bit mid-turn, realizing just how fast he was going, but he's through and picking up the speed once again.

Nicolas Jalabert (Phonak) has come in for a solid 13th place.

17:51 CEST   
Hincapie is across for a provisional second place, an excellent ride. He trails Pereiro by just a second and a half. The expression on his face (and the turn to see his time on the board) shows that George knew he had the legs.

17:55 CEST   
Peter Farazijn has arrived and is ready to roll for Cofidis. He'll take off in a few minutes in what was originally Jimmy Casper's starting position. Looking a little frazzled but happy to be in the Tour, Farazijn is at the start house getting set.

17:58 CEST   
Paolo Bettini has come barrelling out of the gates for Quick.Step-Davitamon. No longer in the jersey of Italian national champion, Bettini will still be eager to fight for a stage win this year. He was constantly on the attack last year but wasn't quite able to come up with the goods for victory.

Cyclingnews grabbed a second with George Hincapie after his ride. "It was really windy out there," he said, "but I felt good and I was able to push a big gear."

18:03 CEST   
Bobby Julich, third overall in the 1998 Tour, is on his way in the prologue. Julich has had a rebirth of sorts this spring with a number of top performances since joining Team CSC. He'll be an important man for the team, alongside GC riders Ivan Basso and Carlos Sastre.

Bettini looked fast, but wasn't particularly. He comes across in 70th place.

18:04 CEST   
Julich has been close to Pereiro's time but he's lost a bit of momentum after taking a turn too fast. No crash but a loss of rhythm. He's back in it now and powering over the ornamental pavé in Liège.

18:06 CEST   
Julich has just missed Pereiro's time. He bumps compatriot Hincapie out of second place after a very strong ride. His wheel slip in the turn could have made the difference...

18:10 CEST   
Former green jersey winner Robbie McEwen has taken to the start now, sporting an enormous aero helmet. Aerodynamics win out over aesthetics in the time trials now that the UCI has required all TT helmets to conform to safety standards. He's followed on the road by Saeco's Salvatore Commesso.

Pereiro's Phonak teammate José Enrique Gutierrez has come in for a provisional fourth place.

18:13 CEST   
US Postal's Floyd Landis has finished with a solid time of 7'08 which gives him 7th place for the moment.

18:18 CEST   
Aussie Matt White, looking understandably disappointed at being on the sidelines at the prologue after his crash, explained to French television that the cuts on his head are superficial, "but a helmet wouldn't have saved my collarbone."

White crossed paths with defending champion Lance Armstrong, who said "I trained with Matt last week and he was very strong. It's a shame... his first Tour. He's a good guy!"

18:21 CEST   
Michael Rogers (Quick.Step) has gone down in the hairpin bend, which is proving a bit tricky for some. Rogers hit his left pedal going through the turn and hit the ground. He's back up quickly and trying to make up for lost time.

18:23 CEST   
One of the favorites for today's prologue, Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo) has started his ride.

Rogers, meanwhile, is carrying on after his crash and doesn't have a happy face to show for it. He crosses the line in 74th place.

18:24 CEST   
Phonak's Oscar Sevilla, who showed great form in the Dauphiné Libéré, has begun his Tour. Sevilla could be a secret weapon for Phonak as all eyes focus on Tyler Hamilton.

18:27 CEST   
Cancellara is setting the fastest pace and could be the first to crack Pereiro's time. Another candidate is Jens Voigt who's coming in now.

Voigt misses the lead by the slimmest of margins, taking second place just hundreths of a second behind.

18:30 CEST   
Cancellara is going to do it, he's looking very strong.

Through the final turn, Cancellara comes in at 6'50.93 at puts a good chunk of time into Pereiro! His ride is the 3rd fastest prologue ever. His average speed was 53.56 km/h.

18:37 CEST   
"I really had to give it my all," current leader Fabian Cancellara told Cyclingnews after his ride. "I was really positive and I felt great out there."

Dutchman Michael Boogerd is on the course now, while Richard Virenque takes to the start. Virenque is aiming for an unprecedented seventh polka dot jersey this year for king of the mountains.

18:40 CEST   
Another specialist against the clock is about to start: Gerolsteiner's Uwe Peschel.

The GC favorites are getting ready to start as we enter the final half hour. Jan Ullrich is looking quite concentrated as he warms up on the turbo trainer.

18:44 CEST   
Mario Cipollini has, you guessed it, a special outfit for the prologue this year. Difficult to ascertain its exact significance just yet, but never fear, the Lion King is here.

Last year's fifth place overall, Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel-Euskadi) has started his ride. Zubeldia and Iban Mayo will once more provide the Euskaltel team with a double plan of attack against Armstrong and the rest.

18:47 CEST   
Peschel has come in with a very modest time, 35th best for the moment. Behind him is Jose Ivan Gutierrez of Illes Balears, who looks to be putting in a solid ride of his own. He won't challenge Cancellara but he has cracked the seven minute mark and taken the second best time for now.

18:51 CEST   
Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole), recently crowned Norwegian time trial champion (and road champion) has powered in to a provisional third place, showing he is in great form in time for the Tour. This year Hushovd will have a greater leadership role now that Stuart O'Grady has moved to Cofidis.

Team CSC's Carlos Sastre cracked the top ten, an excellent ride for the Spanish climber.

18:51 CEST   
Zubeldia, on the other hand, crosses the line in only 43rd place.

18:53 CEST   
Former Giro d'Italia winner Gilberto Simoni is on the course, as is Cipollini in his black and blue circuit board-themed skinsuit.

The big favorite has also begun: Brad McGee (FDJeux.com), followed by American Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank).

18:55 CEST   
The weather is turning a bit as the sun has disappeared and a bit of drizzle has started.

Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Bäcksted takes the start.

18:57 CEST   
McGee is looking as smooth as ever as he hits the hairpin. He wisely took care through the turn as the road is a bit damp.

Cipollini has put in a perfectly acceptable ride, taking 26th place for the moment.

McGee is being very careful in the turns and the time is reflecting this. He's seven seconds behind Cancellara at the halfway point.

18:58 CEST   
Liberty Seguros leader Roberto Heras has started.

As McGee hits some dry portions of the route, he's trying to pour on the power to make up for the early losses.

18:59 CEST   
The sun is shining once more at the start as Belgian hero Tom Boonen begins his ride. This is Boonen's first Tour and he's expecting big things, notably stage wins against Alessandro Petacchi.

McGee won't repeat his prologue feat this year. He's finished in 6'59, third place for the moment.

19:00 CEST   
Leipheimer comes across in 11th place, a decent ride for the American who along with Michael Boogerd will ride as co-leader for the Dutch Rabobank team.

19:02 CEST   
The final riders remaining: Basso, Moreau, Petacchi, Mayo, Hamilton, Ullrich and Armstrong.

Here comes Basso, former winner of the white jersey for best young rider in the Tour. This year he's joined Team CSC and will be the main man for the general classification along with Carlos Sastre.

19:03 CEST   
French hopeful Sylvain Chavanel finishes with a time of 7'14, a decent time for the Tour of Belgium winner. Meanwhile, his compatriot Christophe Moreau, a former prologue winner, is out on the course.

19:04 CEST   
"Ale Jet" Petacchi licks his lips and launches from the start house. Will Petacchi be able to match his winning ways from the Giro in this year's Tour? The competition is deep among the sprinters with the likes of McEwen, Boonen, Cooke, O'Grady, Hushovd, etc.

19:06 CEST   
Dauphiné Libéré winner Iban Mayo, sixth in last year's Tour, begins his ride. Mayo is one of the top challengers for Armstrong this year but he's already handicapped by the loss of Gorka Gonzalez, prevented from starting following the pre-Tour medical checks.

Armstrong enters the start area with a big smile, as his former teammate Tyler Hamilton takes to the road.

19:07 CEST   
Two more riders to go... The big two: Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong is not starting in the yellow jersey this year, a Tour tradition which he seems to prefers to discard.

Ullrich is off, a picture of power.

19:08 CEST   
Armstrong is off, his bid for a sixth victory is now officially in progress.

19:10 CEST   
Basso's time is a modest one, well outside the top finishers so far. Not a great start for a team leader but nor is Basso a prologue specialist.

Moreau has put in a good ride, taking 7th for now with a time of 7'02.

19:11 CEST   
Hamilton is powering through the course on his new time trial machine (which, by the way, you can check out in our Tech section).

Armstrong hesitates a bit through a turn but is immediately out of the saddle and picking up steam.

Ullrich is 10" behind Cancellara at the halfway point.

19:13 CEST   
Mayo comes in 23rd place, an acceptable time given that short, flat time trials are not his strong point.

Here comes Hamilton, who also misses the top places, taking 16th place. The stage could be Cancellara's, as the next question becomes the difference in time between the GC favorites.

19:14 CEST   
Only Armstrong can beat Cancellara now as Ullrich finishes with a time of 7'07, 15th place just behind Hamilton.

Lance is the last to finish. His time is very good and he could take the first jersey!

19:15 CEST   
Armstrong is across the line but he hasn't won it.

He takes 2nd place, just behind Cancellara, who will don the first yellow jersey of the 2004 Tour de France.

19:16 CEST   
Armstrong has taken 15" from Ullrich, which is no small margin over such a short time trial.

Cancellara is quietly digesting the news of his first yellow jersey. The tears are coming...


1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Fassa Bortolo         6.50
2 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal Service       0.02
3 Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Spa) Illes Balears       0.08
4 Bradley McGee (Aus) FDJeux.com                0.09
5 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole            0.10
6 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Phonak
7 Jens Voigt (Ger) Team CSC                     0.11
8 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Credit Agricole       0.12
9 Bobby Julich (USA) Team CSC
10 George Hincapie
General classification after prologue
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Fassa Bortolo         6.50
2 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal Service       0.02
3 Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Spa) Illes Balears       0.08
4 Bradley McGee (Aus) FDJeux.com                0.09
5 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole            0.10
6 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Phonak
7 Jens Voigt (Ger) Team CSC                     0.11
8 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Credit Agricole       0.12
9 Bobby Julich (USA) Team CSC
10 George Hincapie