July 7, 2007
       
 

By Graham Jones and Barry Boyce
CyclingRevealed Historians

 

 

 

Tour de France Champions Living and Dead

 

CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '07

Prologue, July 7th, London, 7.9 km ITT

Mind the Gap!

Even if you have never traveled on the London Underground (known locally as ‘ the tube '), you will almost certainly have heard of the famous warning ‘ mind the gap ' frequently barked to the traveling public. This warning relates to taking care of the gap between the station platform and the tube train carriages.

The famous warning ‘ mind the gap ' shown and frequently barked to the traveling public.

Today as the long anticipated 2007 Tour launched itself into the streets of central London those riders looking to claim victory were certainly ‘minding the gap'. In this most prestigious and historic Tour stage the riders were expecting miniscule time gaps between victory and ‘almost victory'.

The UK is famous for its pomp and pageantry which is displayed in all its magnificence on Royal and other occasions of national importance on the very streets used by today's Prologue race. The fact that central London 's roads were closed to traffic for the Tour is an incredible honor to cycling and illustrated more than anything else the value and importance placed on the event. In the great British style the guests from mainland Europe were accorded a Royal welcome with numerous special events and streets adorned in flags, flowers and posters fit for a Queen.

Discretely lurking in the background were extensive security measures now on high alert following the recent terrorist attacks in the country. But as the Lord Mayor of London , Ken Livingstone, proclaimed, life in London will not be disrupted by the efforts of disaffected terrorists. Happily the entire day was concluded without incident as the general public marveled at this phenomenon known as the Tour de France.

As a Londoner, born and bred, I am proud of my home town. Over the years I have witnessed many great events in this city including the Coronation of the Queen. Unbelievably somber and moving events such as the funerals of Sir Winston Churchill and Princess Diana were particularly well choreographed as they unfolded in the streets of London .

Having been a cyclist for most of these years I never imagined that the Tour would one day speed through London 's famous streets and past buildings like Buckingham Palace and Big Ben. Even now it seems like a dream.

However yesterday evening (Friday) it was no dream at Trafalgar Square where the official introduction of the riders and teams took place. The Square, and the road circling Nelson's Column, was awash in a sea of people and the festivities brought London 's famous traffic to a halt. For weeks Great Britain has been dealing with endless rain and serious flooding. The Wimbledon tennis championship (which finishes tomorrow) has struggled to keep the program on schedule due to the weather. Yet over Trafalgar Square the clouds gave way to blue sky and bathed Le Tour en Angleterre in sun which is hopefully a good omen for this year's race.

After one of the wettest June's on record the sun again shone brilliantly for the entire day of the Prologue. Crowds estimated to be in excess of one million lined the entire route as the 189 riders leaving at one minute intervals spent about four hours to decide the day's winner. Early on Stuart O'Grady (CSC) was setting the fastest split times when, with about 1km to go, he misjudged a bend, hit some protective hay bales and landed ignominiously on the road.

About halfway through the race it became a Russian affair as first Vladimir Karpets (Caisse d'Epargne) set the fastest time of 9:16. Shortly after him Vladimir Gusev (Discovery Channel) went one second better to assume the lead. Almost an hour later Andreas Klöden (Astana) blasted home in 9:03 to now lead by 12 seconds. As he was recovering from his effort Britain 's two great hopes, David Millar and Bradley Wiggins set off on their quest. Wiggins, the local London boy, was propelled by huge roars of support from the partisan crowd but fell short with 9:13 (Millar was even further back with 9:23).

Now the race was really on fire as George Hincapie finished in 9:13 with fractions of a second putting him in second place ahead of Wiggins. However it was now looking as if Klöden had created an unassailable winning gap. Of the riders left to finish the only realistic threat was Fabian Cancellara (CSC). Turned out immaculately in his World Time Trial Champion jersey, Cancellara showed an appreciative London crowd just why he is currently recognized as the best time trialist in the world. Swooping around the corners of the not too technical course and riding at well over 50kmph he flew past famous sites like Buckingham Palace to demonstrate cycle racing at its purest and regal best.


Stage winner Fabian Cancellara ( Image ©: www.gazzetta.it )

Surprise 2nd finisher Andreas Kloden ( Image ©: www.gazzetta.it )

So, just as he did three years ago, Cancellara won the Prologue and will be the first Yellow Jersey wearer of this Tour. Second placed Andreas Klöden announced his intentions as well as those of his Astana squad which includes race favorite Vinokourov (7th at 30s) and Kashechkin (16 th at 35s). Third place went to George Hincapie with his Discovery teammate Gusev 5th just two seconds slower.

As the race closes in on Paris three weeks from now it will be interesting to reflect on today's Prologue result because as short as it is the test is always an excellent barometer of form. Already CSC, Astana and Discovery are well placed with very powerful team structures. Cancellara, Klöden and Hincapie are all realistic GC contenders along with Vinokourov. For my money the man to watch will be 15th placed rider Alberto Contador (Discovery) who was just 35 seconds slower than Cancellara. Contador is a very talented, slightly built climber who can also sprint when necessary. He is not a noted rider against the watch. For him to perform so well in the Prologue is an ominous sign that the competition would do well to note.

Usually the gaps in a short prologue time trial are measured in fractions of a second. Cancellara's 13 second margin over Klöden is astounding. The fact that there is a further 10 seconds to Hincapie is incredible. Today it was not so much about mind the gap as be wary of the chasm!!

 

 

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