Four-time world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara stuck to tradition by winning the prologue time trial at the Tour de Suisse on Saturday.
Cancellara has won the race’s opening time trial four times previously and did not disappoint the thousands of fans who lined scenic Lake Lugano by finishing the hilly 7.3 km course in nine minutes and 41.8 seconds.
American Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) finished second with Slovakian Peter Sagan (Liquigas) third.
“I’m very happy because I was feeling a little bit nervous before the start. I saw that there was almost double the number of spectators compared to last year,” said Cancellara.
“I had two big fears today: suffering a mechanical problem and having to do the downhill section like a man possessed. It’s a bit like doing a hard downhill in skiing — you have to stay in control while taking risks and not losing any speed.”
Cancellara did come close to suffering a mechanical problem, the Swiss starting the race in jittery fashion when he experienced a minor problem with his electronic gear shifters.
However, unlike teammate Andy Schleck — who had to change bikes due to a mechanical problem and finished 1:18 off the pace — it was a blip on an otherwise commanding performance.
Leopard-Trek’s Fränk Schleck is the reigning champion in the nine-stage event, which in its 75th edition has been toughened by organizers to the extent that Cancellara, the champion in 2009, has ruled himself out of overall victory.
Instead, the Swiss was expected to win both the opening and the closing time trials, and kept his employers happy by fulfilling the first task.
Cancellara had won the opening time trial or prologue of the race in 2003, 2007, 2009 and 2010, and thus was the logical pre-stage favorite.
Although the course featured a twisting climb of just over 2km after a 1km warm-up on the flat, the big Swiss fared not too badly by the time he reached the race’s only intermediate point at the 3km mark.
RadioShack’s Andreas Klöden, one of the few riders who on paper looks capable of challenging Schleck for overall victory, topped the times at the summit; however, Cancellara was less than two seconds adrift.
Wearing his world time trial champion’s rainbow jersey, Cancellara then powered down the descent towards the finish line where his winning time pushed provisional leader Van Garderen down a place.
Saxo Bank’s Swedish specialist Gustav Larsson finished fourth, also at 17 seconds adrift, with Klöden fifth at 18, two seconds ahead of American Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervélo) and four seconds ahead of American teammate Levi Leipheimer.
By the time Schleck was halfway through his race the wind had picked up and rain had started to fall, forcing the Luxembourger to lessen the risk-taking.
He eventually finished 62nd, 41 seconds off the winning pace of his Leopard-Trek teammate, who will now wear the leader’s yellow jersey into Sunday’s 149km second stage from Airolo.
It is the first of five climbing stages and will begin with a 20km ascent to the summit of to the race’s highest point, the Col du Nufenen at 2478 meters above sea level, before finishing in Crans-Montana.
The race finishes Sunday June 19 with a 32.1 km time trial around Schaffhouse.
- 1. Fabian Cancellara (SUI), Leopard-Trek, 9:41
- 2. Tejay Van Garderen (USA), HTC-Highroad, at 0:09
- 3. Peter Sagan (SVK), Liquigas-Cannondale, at 0:17
- 4. Gustav Larsson (SWE), Saxobank-Sungard, at 0:17
- 5. Andreas Klöden (GER), Team RadioShack, at 0:18
- 6. Thomas Danielson (USA), Garmin-Cervelo, at 0:20