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93rd Tour de France - ProT

France, July 1-23, 2006

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Prologue - Saturday, July 1: Strasbourg ITT, 7 km

Complete live report

The podium
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

12:34 CEST   
Welcome, dear readers, to the new Tour de France. This is a more slimmed down version of the old Tour de France, with fresh faces, lower power-to-weight, and doesn't give you heartburn. After Operacion Puerto caused 13 to be removed from the Tour's starting list yesterday, we will see a Tour without top favourites Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, Alexandre Vinokourov, or Francisco Mancebo. Taking a positive approach, one could say Operacion Puerto has been a real shot in the arm for cycling, and one that it has needed for a while.

Despite all the drama of yesterday, we still have an interesting Tour ahead of us, and quite a few riders must now fancy their chances for the win. Even without Basso, CSC has a pretty strong team with riders like Sastre, Schleck, Voigt, Julich, Zabriskie - don't count them out for the GC. T-Mobile is a bit weaker, but still has Andreas Klöden and Serguei Gonchar. Discovery has all its riders intact, and José Azevedo, George Hincapie, Yaroslav Popovych and Paolo Savoldelli are all big hitters.

All in all, there are 176 riders of the original 189 down to start today's flat, fast 7 km prologue in Strasbourg. It's sunny, warm, and humid, with temperatures nudging 30 degrees and only a light wind blowing.

Alas, our live coverage took a hit sometime in June when the engine room of the Hindenburg V spontaneously combusted. It wasn't even an insurance job, much to our accounting dept's annoyance. It was a sorry mess one Saturday morning as we gazed upon its smoking ruins, but it didn't take long for us to assess the damage and rebuild her as the Hindenburg V-1! We even installed a new bath and spa in the southwestern wing of the dirigible, and that will help to carry us into the future. Onward and upward!

13:34 CEST   
At 13:15 local time, French rider Cédric Coutouly (Agritubel) had the honour of rolling down the start ramp as first rider of this year's Tour de France. Even without the big favourites, the French and German fans are packing the streets of Strasbourg, hoping to see... if not a totally clean race, at least a 'cleaner' one.

The 7.1 km-course in one of the European institutional capitals includes several tight, but rolling corners, as well as three 90° angles, which makes it the perfect fit for all the fast and furious specialists out there. Today's winner must be able to ride hard on a very short distance, in a perfectly aerodynamic position, and powerfully accelerate out of those corners. An intermediate time check after 3.5km will give us an indication of who's going strong, with the main favourites today being last year's winner Dave Zabriskie (CSC), Michael Rogers (T-Mobile), George Hincapie (Discovery), Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner), Floyd Landis (Phonak) and Bradley Wiggins (Cofidis) - as well as David Millar (Saunier Duval), who is back to racing after his two-year ban for admitting to EPO use.

13:41 CEST   
As the riders continue to start, one by one, with 1 minute separating them, we have the first best from Bert Grabsch (Phonak) with 8.32 minutes. That time is sure to be beaten by many still to come...

This morning, all the teams went to recon the course, including some of their team directors, like Bjarne Riis and Christian Henn from Gerolsteiner.

13:54 CEST   
The last weeks have been - to say the least - disturbing for the cycling community, including the ones reporting on it like us. In the coming days, we will surely continue to be inundated with further information about the current doping scandal, which to many observers is "worse than Festina". Only time will be able to tell if the peloton will finally learn its lesson from it, or if some will continue their habits of trying to get an advantage over their rivals, who they suspect must "be on something", too...

Like Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme said, "to many spectators, it wouldn't matter if the final times of a Tour de France were slower. What the fans want to see is the struggle, the will to pursue, the combat. A clean and honourable sport could only add to the public excitement and the popularity of cycling."

13:57 CEST   
But now, back to the sport: Chris Horner form Davitamon-Lotto is four seconds ahead of Grabsch at the intermediate time check. He's doing well!

14:07 CEST   
The experts estimate that today's winner will clock a time around 7.50 minutes. It will be interesting to see what Scotsman David Millar is able to do after two years without competition. He will be starting at 15.56 CET.

14:13 CEST   
Climber Michael Rasmussen from Rabobank has left the ramp. He looks lean as ever and surely has his eyes set on that polkadot jersey again. If only there weren't those time trials in his way... But his excellent performances in the mountains will hopefully make everyone forget those bad memories of last year's penultimate stage.

14:21 CEST   
Sebastian Lang from Gerolsteiner is the first to beat Grabsch's best time - by a whole ten seconds. The young German rider is a good time triallist, similar to the talented Markus Fothen, who's riding his first Tour de France this year. The elder brother of Thomas Fothen (both Gerolsteiner) is also strong in the mountains, making him an possible candidate for stage races in the future. A man to watch.

14:33 CEST   
Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) has also set out on the course now. The former time trial world champion could put Lang's best time in jeopardy.

As we've heard, some of the teams sponsored by Shimano are testing new four-spoke wheels today. We'll give you further information as soon as it's available.

14:39 CEST   
Stuart O'Grady beats Lang at the intermediate time check by almost one second! This could be a good race for Stuey if he manages to hold the pace during the last kilometres. The time differences between the sprinters will be interesting to watch, as they may have a possibility to grab the yellow jersey in one of the coming, flat stages.

14:43 CEST   
The wind has been increasing since the start if the race. Especially on the long final straight, the breeze has evolved into a headwind, which is sure to influence times. Other than that, the weather is still perfect. O'Grady places second behind Lang, with Gonchar third at the moment.

14:51 CEST   
Vladimir Karpets (Caisse d'Epargne) powers down the last hundred meters. He finishes six seconds down of Lang, but will surely not be too disappointed. He will have his eyes on the GC favourites later on.

Joost Posthuma (Rabobank), another young, talented rider with a huge engine, is also underway, clocking a new best at the intermediate time check.

14:56 CEST   
Posthuma lost his advantage on the second part of the parcours and came in ninth, 13 seconds down of the still leading Lang.

14:58 CEST   
Luxembourger Fränk Schleck (CSC)is pedaling at 105 turns pre minute, riding just beside the barriers. He's giving his all, just like the other riders, but this is not his specialty - he's far behind in the finish.

15:04 CEST   
Ralf Grabsch (Milram) is coming in. Hammering in the heat. But he, too, hasn't got a chance to be in the front.

15:09 CEST   
There goes Michael Boogerd (Rabobank). He's at 108 rpm, but took on one corner too slow.

Bobby Julich (CSC) is up next. He should do well today, too. Off he goes!

15:11 CEST   
Julich wears dossard number 11 for his excluded team leader. We will see if the CSC riders have assimilated the chaos of the last few days and the exclusion of Ivan Basso or if it still weighs down on them.

15:15 CEST   
Boogerd is at 99 rpm, definitely using a bigger bracket than others. But that's his style... Julich is using a non-round ring.

There are still gusts of wind disturbing the riders in the streets of Strasbourg. Some of these corners aren't easy to take on, either - this parcours is pretty technical.

15:20 CEST   
Popovych powers down the finish straight, arriving 15 seconds down on Lang. We can see papers and debris being blown across the street. It's not easy to steer well in this kind of wind, which might be one reason why Lang's time hasn't been beaten yet. It was less windy at the start of the race.

Still, Lang IS the German time trial champion!

15:26 CEST   
The French time trial champion, Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) is out now. His DS Francis Vanlondersele is shouting into his microphone in the car behind him, telling him "you're always superior to your body! Allez, allez!!" Chavanel grinds his teeth... But it's the second half of the course that really wears out the riders, that's for sure.

The best average speed at the moment is 50.94 km/h.

15:33 CEST   
German Jens Voigt is off! The German will want to do really well today - he's the sort of person to turn frustration and anger into even more willpower.

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon) is at 101 rpm, looking very smooth. He gets out of the saddle after the last curve and finishes 23 seconds down of Lang... and O Grady. We'll see what World champ Tom Boonen will do on this course later on - he said he wanted to wear the yellow jersey to Belgium on this Tour! That looks unlikely for the Australian now.

15:38 CEST   
Gilberto Simoni (Saunier) has started, gearing up. He looks very motivated.

Voigt is in the finish now - 19 seconds down. That result surely wasn't what he had hoped for.

15:46 CEST   
Frenchman Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) is now suffering on the heated tarmac, while Erik Dekker (Rabobank) has started. Dekker the elder has enough experience to know exactly what's to do in the next weeks - while Dekker the younger was taken out of the team's line-up before the Tour de France, due to a lack of form.

The streets aren't very wide either, which makes the corners more difficult to navigate.

15:49 CEST   
Brard uses too high a development, unable to accelerate out of the corners. He's having a hard time now in the headwind.

15:52 CEST   
Paolo Savoldelli, Carlos Sastre and Andreas Klöden have set out! We wonder if Klöden will become T-Mobile's leader on this Tour... surely the team has to change its strategy now that the 'Kaiser' sent home.

Former teammate Erik Zabel is now also underway in his new Milram jersey. He'll be sprinting a whole 7.1 km now!

15:54 CEST   
Here are the last 15 riders to start:

15:55 Benoît Vaugrenard (Française des Jeux)
15:56 David Millar (Saunier Duval-Prodir)
15:57 Bradley Wiggins (Cofidis, le Credit par Telephone)
15:58 Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
15:59 Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole)
16:00 Tom Boonen (Quick Step-Innergetic)
16:01 Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears)
16:02 Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital)
16:03 Floyd Landis (Phonak Hearing Systems)
16:04 Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto)
16:05 Denis Menchov (Rabobank)
16:06 Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner)
16:07 Christophe Moreau (AG2R Prevoyance)
16:08 Michael Rogers (T-Mobile Team)
16:09 David Zabriskie (Team CSC)
16:10 George Hincapie (Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team)

15:55 CEST   
We will soon know if the favourites will be able to beat the early best of Sebastian Lang in these more windy conditions. David Millar is off!

15:58 CEST   
Klöden finishes 12 seconds behind Lang. Good for him!

Millar is very steady, sitting on the outer tip of his saddle. Nice, smooth pedalling.

15:59 CEST   
Nice ride by Savoldelli, too: he finishes third behind Lang and O'Grady. The Italian is one of the Discovery rider Johan Bruyneel can choose from to take the team's leadership later on.

16:02 CEST   
Tom Boonen (Quickstep) is now also out, looking determined to chase down Zabel.

Millar uses a 54 ring, he's now returning back to start/finish zone. But he was 8 secs behind at the time check - he won't make it today.

Thor Hushovd (CA)
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

16:06 CEST   
Floyd Landis missed his start! He wasn't even on the ramp when the beep came on. But he only missed 6 seconds... still, that won't do it for the win today.

Thor Hushovd leads halfway, by 2 seconds!

16:07 CEST   
And Alejandro Valverde equals Hushovd at the time check! While Hushovd gets into the finish... and beats Lang by four seconds!! What a ride!

16:10 CEST   
World champion Michael Rogers takes a deep breath before starting. He's off! Next up is Dave Z (CSC) and George Hincapie (Discovery) - the Tour has begun...

And Valverde finishes third at the moment - quite a performance by the small Spaniard!

16:12 CEST   
Landis comes into the finish and still takes sixth placing, nine seconds behind Hushovd - he did well in spite of his missed start.

16:13 CEST   
It will be down to Rogers, Zabriskie and Hincapie now. The bets are on!

16:15 CEST   
Zabriskie is third at 1 second after 3.7 km. Leipheimer finished 21 seconds down on Hushovd.

16:17 CEST   
Rogers comes in fourth. This wasn't for him.

Zabriskie finishes second!

16:17 CEST   
here comes Hincapie... giving it all, very powerful.

16:18 CEST   
And it's by 0.73 seconds that Hushovd wins in front of Hincapie!! Well done by both of them!

16:22 CEST   
What a close finish! Hincapie missed it by a hair. Valverde did really well but considering his sprinting qualities this is not actually a surprise.

Zabriskie might still be under the spell of the bad news in his team, having trouble to concentrate.

16:28 CEST   
That's all from us right now. Joins us again tomorrow at 13.00 CET for the first stage in this year's Tour de France: a loop around Strasbourg possibly ending in a bunch sprint. Will we see big Thor keep the Green jersey as well the Yellow? Boonen will be looking for it, too... Bye for now.

Intermediate timing

km 3.7 (all riders through)
1 Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole)                         4.04
2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears    
3 Dave Zabriskie (USA) Team CSC                          0.01
4 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel                    
5 Joost Posthuma (Ned) Rabobank                          0.02
6 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel                   
7 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team CSC                          0.03
8 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas                            
9 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick.Step                                
10 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner                     0.04
Finish - km 7.1 (all riders through)
1 Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole)                         8.17
2 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel                    
3 Dave Zabriskie (USA) Team CSC                          0.04
4 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner                          
5 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears    
6 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team CSC                              
7 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile                          0.06
8 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel               0.08
9 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak                              0.09
10 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears 0.10


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