LIÈGE, Belgium (AFP) —Fabian Cancellara is hoping for a repeat of his yellow-jersey ride in 2004 when he tackles the prologue of the Tour de France here Saturday.
Since his two-second victory over Lance Armstrong in the Belgian city eight years ago, Cancellara has become one of the most successful riders in the peloton.
A record four-time world time trial champion, the man from Berne is the reigning Olympic champion in the discipline and remains a dominant force in the tough one-day classics.
However, a mediocre classics campaign has taken the shine off Cancellara’s star, adding to the woes of a RadioShack-Nissan team that has been devoid of major victories.
With only three wins so far this season, including the Swiss national time trial crown, winning Saturday’s prologue and taking the leader’s yellow jersey would more than make amends for the 31-year-old.
“Winning the prologue in Liège (in 2004) was the first victory of my career on a truly global scale, especially beating Armstrong by two seconds,” said the Swiss, who since then has added four stage wins to his Tour tally.
“I still cherish the memory, especially when it allowed me to wear the yellow jersey.
“Hopefully I can do the same on Saturday. I’m not saying I’m going to win, but I will be giving it my absolute maximum.”
Although only 6.4km long, the prologue has been described as a technically challenging course that will favor big powerful riders like Cancellara.
“This course is one for the specialists,” said French legend Bernard Hinault, a five-time Tour winner.
“It’s technical, so you have to have good bike-handling skills and be fast at the same time. There will be no hiding places.”
Among Cancellara’s biggest challengers, at least on paper, is Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), who last year succeeded the Swiss as world champion after winning the final long time trial of the 2011 Tour.
Martin, however, has played down his chance of taking the yellow jersey, underlining his superiority in longer races against the clock.
“A lot of guys think I can win the prologue and take the yellow jersey. I feel good, but there are usually strong guys and I usually have better chances in the long time trials,” said the German.
Bradley Wiggins (Sky) is this year’s favorite for overall victory. But he cannot be ruled out of prologue contention, having finished second to Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEdge) in the 5.7km kickoff to the Critérium Dauphiné in June, four seconds ahead of Martin.
Liquigas-Cannondale rider Peter Sagan, meanwhile, will be looking to continue his impressive winning streak.
The versatile Slovakian won an impressive five stages out of eight at the Amgen Tour of California in May and beat Cancellara on the 7.3km opening time trial at the recent Tour de Suisse, where he won a further three stages.