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Off to the Races: Fabian Cancellara easily wins the first
Cancellara wins Tour opener in Monacovelonews
Tour de France Stage 1
Cancellara verovert de eerste gele
  Highlights and Reactions: Verslag Van De Eerste Etappe (01:34 Flemish) — sporza
  Post Race: Armstrong return 'felt good' (02:08) — eurosport
  Post Race: Leipheimer enjoys Monaco (02:12) — eurosport
  Pre Race: Lance talks with Eddy Merckx (02:40) — livestrong
  Pre-Race: Lance: "I'm here to win"versus
  Last 10 minutes/Podium finishers (10:00 english) — versus
12 Big Photos from Stage 1sirotti and colin flockton
Graham Watson Stage 1 Photosgrahamwatson
Stage 1 ITT Highlights (01:57) — eurosport
  Team Columbia Spotlight 'they plan to win' (01:35) — eurosport
  Stage 1 Highlights, Interviews, Analysis (multiple clips) — versus
  ITV stage 1 podcast with Matt Rendell, Ned Boulting and Chris Boardman: stage 1 roundtable; interviews with stage winner Fabian Cancellara and Bjarne Riis — ITV
  Bikeradar stage 1 podcast: Author Richard Moore joins Procycling's Daniel Friebe and Ellis Bacon to round up the results — bikeradar

Post Stage Analysis

Off to the Races
Fabian Cancellara wins stage, takes first Yellow Jersey

An on-form Fabian Cancellara won today’s opening time trial stage of the Tour de France. The former World Champion trailed Bradley Wiggins at the top of the Côte de Beausoleil, and it looked for a time as if the British rider from Garmin-Slipstream would wear the first Yellow Jersey of the Tour. Spanish time trial champion Alberto Contador of Team Astana then blasted over the côte with a still faster time.

But Cancellara was having none of it. The Swiss talent, who has twice before won the opening time trial at the Tour, used his acrobatic bike handling on the sinuous descent back to Monaco. The Olympic and former World champion in the time trial has otherworldly bike-handling and he needed them on the narrow, twisting road into Monaco. Inside the final kilometers Cancellara overtook his minute-man, Giro d’Italia winner Denis Menchov, himself no slouch against the watch. At the line, Cancellara beat the time of Bradley Wiggins by 19 seconds, a significant margin in a 15.5 kilometer test.

Still out on course, Alberto Contador continued his big ride, but could not match the speed of Cancellara. Contador, whose time trial skills have improved significantly this season, finished second, 18 seconds behind the Swiss champion. In the battle for the general classification, Contador has seized an early advantage, though Australian Cadel Evans of Silence-Lotto sits just 5 seconds behind.

“I have showed that I am the best specialist in the time trial,” declared Cancellara after the stage. No need for false modesty from the Swiss talent. Cancellara explained that he took his share of risks to win the stage, but dismissed them as “normal.” “I know how to pilot my bike very well,” he commented. Recognizing his advantage in the descent and the flats, the Saxo Bank rider held back on the climb. In the end, he could see Denis Menchov. “That was where I made the difference,” Cancellara said. The Swiss talent has had a difficult season, which included a training crash at the beginning of March. The crash ruined his preparation for the Ronde van Vlaanderen, his main objective for the Spring. “It was a difficult moment, because I have known three or four years of big victories,” Cancellara recounted in Monaco. The Swiss rider said he hopes to keep the jersey as long as possible, and with no time bonuses for the stage winners, he could hold the jersey for much of this first week.

For his part, Alberto Contador of Astana told the media after the stage that he was “very content” with today’s result. “I am not disappointed, I am very happy with the result, Cancellara is a grand champion,” he said. When asked about the team dynamics between Armstrong and him, Contador said, “This does not preoccupy me very much. The media talks about a conflict, but the relationship within the team is good.” Lance Armstrong, who returns to the Tour after a four year absence, finished tenth, 40 seconds behind Cancellara. Contador, meanwhile, who currently wears the Polka Dot Jersey, said, “I would like very much to change this jersey, I want to wear the Yellow.”

General Classification Update

Fabian Cancellara, Saxo Bank
Alberto Contador, Astana, at 0.18
Bradley Wiggins, Garmin-Slipstream, at 0.19
Andreas Klöden, Astana, at 0.22
Cadel Evans, Silence-Lotto, at 0.23
Levi Leipheimer, Astana, at 0.30
Roman Kreuziger, Liquigas-Doimo, at 0.32
Tony Martin, Columbia-HTC, at 0.33
Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas-Doimo, at 0.37
Lance Armstrong, Astana, at 0.40

In the general classification battle, pre-race favorite Alberto Contador has given notice that he has come to this Tour de France with excellent form. The Spanish rider from Team Astana had the fastest time of the general classification favorites in Monaco. He has also put himself at the top of the team hierarchy at Team Astana, at least for now. Contador leads Andreas Klöden by 3 seconds, Levi Leipheimer by 12 seconds, and Lance Armstrong by 22 seconds.

According to Astana’s press comments, Contador is the undisputed team leader for this race, but many observers have wondered how well the talented cast at Astana will work together. After all, Leipheimer finished only 31 seconds behind Contador in the 2007 Tour. Klöden has also stood on the podium in Paris, while the returning Armstrong has won the Tour de France a record seven times. Today’s performance should put some of those doubts to rest, though it remains to be seen just how well the team supports the Spanish rider in his efforts to win a second Tour de France.

Looking beyond the Astana Ménage, Cadel Evans sits just 5 seconds behind Contador. The Australian has finished second at the Tour for two years running. In 2007, he fell just 23 seconds short of beating Contador. This year, Evans out-rode the Spanish talent at the opening time trial of the Critérium Dauphiné Libéré, but could not repeat that performance today. Still, the Australian has ridden into a good position with three weeks of racing to go.

Last year’s winner, Carlos Sastre of Cervélo TestTeam sits 47 seconds down on Alberto Contador. Sastre is never at his best in the first week of a grand tour. Solid, though not spectacular against the watch, Sastre will wait for the mountains. His best chances will come on the three mountain top finishes of this year’s Tour, and the difficult mountain stages of the third week. No doubt he would like to be closer to Contador on time, but the quiet Spanish climber is not one to worry and will wait patiently for his chance.

Though he has yet to finish high in the Tour’s general classification, Roman Kreuziger of Liquigas-Doimo has opened his Tour campaign with a strong ride against the watch. Kreuziger, who last year won the Tour de Suisse, sits 14 seconds behind Contador. The Czech all-arounder shares team leadership duties with Italian Vincenzo Nibali, who also did a good ride today. Nibali sits 19 seconds behind Contador. Nibali has frequently faltered in the high mountains, but this year’s Tour course, with only three mountain top finishes, may suit him better than most.

On the subject of young talents, Andy Schleck of Saxo Bank now sits 41 seconds behind Alberto Contador in the general classification. Widely touted as a future winner of the Tour de France, the younger Schleck brother will need a big ride in the mountains to overtake Alberto Contador. Indeed, the battle between Schleck and Contador in the mountains could well turn out to be one of the highlights of this year’s Tour. Certainly, Schleck will have strong support from his Saxo Bank team.

Last year’s fifth place finisher Christian Vandevelde of Garmin-Slipstream crashed out of the Giro, and has steadily rebuilt his form over the past month. Vandevelde finished seventeenth today, and sits 39 seconds behind Alberto Contador. Vandevelde is typically better against the watch than in the mountains, but he is a consistent rider who could ride into the race. Don’t count him out just yet, though it will be a big ask for the American to repeat his high finish of last year. Vandevelde’s team-mate Bradley Wiggins finished third in Monaco and some in the press have touted his chances as a general classification rider. During the first week of the Giro, Wiggins rode high in the standings, but has said that he does not handle successive days in the high mountains especially well, which is a necessary skill for chasing the Yellow Jersey.

It was a rough day over at Rabobank, meanwhile, where team leader and Giro d’Italia winner Denis Menchov did not have a good race in Monaco. The Russian, who typically rides well against the watch, finished 1:31 down on Cancellara, who caught him in the closing kilometers. Menchov now trails Contador in the general classification by 1:13. His Rabobank team-mate Robert Gesink finished 1:15 down on Cancellara, and sits 57 seconds down on Contador. Gesink makes his Tour de France début this year, and is at his best in the high mountains. Though his time trialing has improved steadily, he has not yet gained the strength to challenge the top riders. Perhaps Gesink will find the Polka Dot Jersey to his liking, but with three weeks left to race, it is too early to rule out a good general classification finish for the young Dutch rider.

Other General Classification riders: Mikel Astarloza of Euskaltel-Euskadi @ :44, Linus Gerdemann of Milram @ 1:03, Vladimir Karpets of Katusha @ 1:07, Michael Rogers of Columbia-HTC @1:13, Marzio Bruseghin of Lampre-Ngc @ 1:17. (All gaps here to Cancellara.)

Alberto Contador had the fastest time at the first intermediate time check on the Côte de Beausoleil, and now leads the mountains classification. The Green Jersey of points leader goes to stage winner Fabian Cancellara, but Bradley Wiggins will wear the jersey for tomorrow’s stage. In the white jersey competition, Roman Kreuziger of Liquigas-Doimo leads Tony Martin of Columbia-HTC by 1 second. Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Doimo is third at 5 seconds. With four riders in the top ten of today’s stage, Team Astana leads the teams classification. Saxo Bank sits second at 31 seconds.

Looking Ahead

Tomorrow’s stage runs between Monaco and Brignoles. The course follows the Mediterranean coast for much of the day, before turning inland to finish in Brignoles. There are four categorized climbs on the profile, though none of them is especially difficult. It should be a day for the sprinters’ teams to shine, but the climbs will complicate their efforts to keep the breakaways in check.

It’s rare for a team not to defend the race leader’s jersey, and we can expect to see Saxo Bank on the front tomorrow. But they will be looking for help from the sprinters’ teams, and if they don’t find it, Cancellara’s team may let the jersey go. For Saxo Bank has ambitions to win this Tour de France with Andy Schleck, and they will not want to run short of legs in the crucial mountain stages of the third week. Still, Cancellara has said he wants to hold the jersey for as long as possible.

The sprinters should prevail, but a determined escape could well survive to the finish in Brignoles. The prize? A stage win and the possibility of taking over the Yellow Jersey. — Gavia

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Course Preview

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The 2009 Tour begins in the principality of Monaco with a time trial. The course climbs into the foothills of the Alpes Maritimes just outside the city before descending to a flat finish between high-rise hotels and the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean. At 15.5 kilometers, the stage is too long to be a prologue, and will offer an early indication of who has brought race-winning legs to this year’s Tour de France. The course includes one category 4 climb, the Côte de Beausoleil, literally “beautiful sun,” which reaches a maximum elevation of 205 meters. The second half of the course descends to a flat finish along the beach on the Boulevard Louis II near Port Hercule.

Fun fact! An average person could walk the length of Monaco in less than an hour. The country is surrounded on three sides by France, and lies not far from Sanremo on Italy’s Ligurian Coast. For portions of its history, Monaco has come under both French and Italian rule, and is currently the second smallest independent country in the world. Vatican City is the smallest, for those of you keeping score at home.

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Back to the bike race. The time trial starts and finishes near the Port Hercule on the Boulevard Louis II, named after the eleventh Prince of Monaco. The course begins climbing almost immediately, as the riders head into the rolling hills just outside the city. Traveling into French territory, the course gains 200 meters in the first 7.5 kilometers. The climb has an average gradient of 2.7% and is rated a category 4. The average is a tad misleading, as the climb is of the stair-stepping persuasion. It climbs in short steeper sections, then plateaus. Wash, rinse, repeat. The Côte de Beausoleil tops out at 200 meters and summits at 8 kilometers from the finish.

It’s all downhill from here. From the summit of the Côte de Beausoleil, the course descends following the Moyenne Corniche to the Avenue du President Kennedy. The elevation drops 150 meters in 4 kilometers, so it’s not a steep descent. The gradient averages 3.8%. From the Avenue du President Kennedy, there’s a slight turn to the Avenue Notre-Dame de Bon Voyage, then a hairpin to the Avenue Jean Jaurès.

Along the waterfront, the course turns flat and returns from French territory to Monaco. Inside 4 kilometers to go, there is a series of four 180 degree turns linking the Avenue de France with the Avenue de Princesse Grâce. The final 3 kilometers run straight to the finish on the Boulevard Louis II at Port Hercule.

It is not uncommon for wind to blow off the ocean in the afternoon in Monaco. Consequently, riders starting later could face a cross-head wind on the final kilometers on the Avenue de Princesse Grâce. The climb will more likely prove decisive than the wind, though, as Monaco is known for its mild weather, especially during the summer months.

Who to Watch

The course of this first stage has much in common with the short time trials that opened both Paris-Nice and the Critérium Dauphiné Libéré. In both of those races, the crono specialists found victory elusive and the podium flowers went to general classification riders. Alberto Contador won the opening time trial at Paris-Nice, while Cadel Evans won the first stage of the Critérium Dauphiné Libéré. This Tour stage closely resembles the first stage of the Dauphiné Libéré, which also began with a climb.

Still, the first stage and first yellow jersey of the Tour de France is a huge prize and the crono specialists will be peaked and ready to go big. Fabian Cancellara won the Olympic time trial in Beijing and is twice World Champion. In 2004, he won the Tour de France prologue in Liège by 2 seconds over Lance Armstrong. A true prologue, the 2004 stage covered just 6.1 kilometers. If anything, Cancellara will benefit from the longer distance this time around and could very well wear the first yellow jersey of the 2009 Tour de France. If I were a betting woman, which I’m not, but if I were, I’d take Cancellara to win this Monaco stage.

Of course, Cancellara is hardly the only rider with an ambition to win this prestigious opening stage. In 2005, David Zabriskie won the 19 kilometer first stage of the Tour de France. Like Cancellara the previous year, Zabriskie beat Lance Armstrong by 2 seconds. Truth, stranger than fiction. Zabriskie is the current U.S. National Champion in the time trial. He showed well in a few early season stage races this year, and rode the Giro d’Italia in preparation for this Tour de France. The last few months have been quiet in the results department and no doubt he has the Monaco stage circled on his calender. Zabriskie should rip on this course, though he will find Cancellara very difficult to best. Indeed, Zabriskie has placed behind Cancellara at Worlds in their last few meetings. The shorter distance may prove the wildcard, and there should be a close battle between the two specialists and former team-mates.

Other stage-chasers include: Gustav Larsson of Saxo Bank, who was second in the Olympic time trial last year, José Ivan Gutierrez of Caisse d’Épargne, a former Spanish National Champion in the time trial and second at Worlds in 2005, Bradley Wiggins of Garmin-Slipstream, a two-time Olympic Gold medalist in the pursuit and 4th in the 2007 Tour de France prologue, Stef Clement of Rabobank, 3rd at the 2007 World Championship in the crono, Thomas Lövkvist of Columbia-High Road, former Swedish National Champion in the time trial, and Benoît Vaugrenard of Français des Jeux, a former French National Champion in the crono and eighth in the opening stage of the Dauphiné Libéré.

General Classification Watch

Among the general classification riders, Cadel Evans and Alberto Contador should ride well here, especially after their strong performances at the opening time trial of the Critérium Dauphiné Libéré. Evans has typically shown better in the crono, but Contador did ride a scorcher at Paris-Nice. Watch for these two to continue their close rivalry from the Dauphiné Libéré, and to finish close on time in Monaco.

Contador’s team-mates Levi Leipheimer, Lance Armstrong, and Andreas Klöden should also ride well in this opening stage, setting up the possibility of multiple general classification threats from team Astana. That, or a bitter intra-team rivalry. In recent press comments, Contador has named both Leipheimer and Armstrong as key rivals in the race to wear yellow in Paris. Certainly, both Americans have placed well in past time trial stages, through both also suffered when the road turned up at this year’s Giro d’Italia. Will they bring better form to France? Contador must be hoping not, as surely he would prefer not to race his own team-mates for the overall classification. Astana looks likely to dominate the teams classification after this opening time trial, in any case.

The opening time trial should also offer Denis Menchov an opportunity to gain an early advantage. The 2009 Giro d’Italia winner thrives in the crono and should find this course to his liking. Likewise for Roman Kreuziger, the young Czech rider at Liquigas-Doimo, who last year won the Tour de Suisse and this year finished second to Cancellara in the opening 7 kilometer crono in Switzerland. Riding his first Tour de France, Kreuziger last year finished 13th in the general classification and no doubt hopes to better that result. He will share captain’s duties at Liquigas-Doimo with Vincenzo Nibali, who recently finished in the top ten at the Critérium Dauphiné Libéré. Franco Pellizotti, who placed third in this year’s Giro d’Italia, will also ride the Tour for Liquigas-Doimo, though he seems unlikely to figure high in this opening stage. Wait for the mountains to see the blonde Pellizotti at the front.

Fourth overall last year in the Tour, Christian Vandevelde has always ridden well against the watch, but the American suffered a crash at the Giro d’Italia, which has raised doubts about his chances of repeating his high general classification finish. Certainly, he did not show especially good form at the recent Tour de Suisse, but he may prove able to pull a good result over the short distance of this opening time trial. His chances of winning in Paris, though, do not look auspicious.

The climbers will be happy to see the road turn up in the first 7 kilometers, but the gradients are not steep enough to offer them much advantage. Carlos Sastre of Cervélo TestTeam will likely open his Tour campaign with a deficit to his rivals, though with only 15 kilometers to race, he should not fall too far behind. Last year’s Tour winner is never at his best during the first week, though the climb in this course will help his cause.

Over at Saxo Bank, Andy Schleck is also less brilliant against the watch than his rivals, but like Sastre, he will enjoy the opening climb. Ditto for Fränk Schleck who has no love for the time trial bike. Schleck the elder placed sixth in the general classification at the Tour last year, and starts this year’s race as co-captain with his brother Andy, who already won the monument Liège-Bastogne-Liège this season. In the long run, Andy Schleck will likely prove the better of the brothers in the grand tours and he has placed second in the general classification at the Giro d’Italia. Fränk Schleck has also suffered from a knee problem recently, and may not be at his best when the Tour begins in Monaco.

Overall, I would expect a close finish among the general classification riders on this opening stage. The distance is relatively short, and the opening climb offers a chance for the climbers to limit their losses. The Tour will not be won or lost in this first stage, but this time trial offers an opportunity for an on-form rider to gain an advantage over his rivals. It will also set an initial hierarchy among the teams and riders before the first round of mountain stages in the Pyrénées. — Gavia

Gavia (updates to this preview will be made during the race and especially the day before the stage with current analysis)<-->