By Chris Carmichael
To see and talk to Lance Armstrong before today’s prologue, you would have thought he warming up for a local Tuesday night time trial series.
I know he’s used to the pressure, accustomed to the crowds and the press, but I’ve never seen him as relaxed before the start of the Tour as he was today. He calmly stepped into the start house, peacefully settled onto his bike, and then nearly ripped the cranks off of it.
All talk of whether it is better to wait until after the first week to take the yellow jersey is irrelevant when it comes to prologues. Your only choice is ride flat out from start to finish; you don’t play around with strategies in a nine-minute event. This prologue was shorter than usual and far more technical.
Fortunately, the rain clouds cleared off and the roads were mostly dry for all the main favorites. Dry roads enabled everyone to take the chances they wanted to in an effort to wear the first yellow jersey of the 2002 Tour.
Pacing was important, as riders were visibly slowing in the final 1.5 kilometers. You can lose more time faltering at the end than you can gain hammering at the beginning, and although not specifically planned, Lance demonstrated that principle today. He was seventh at the mid-way time check, four seconds behind Laurent Jalabert and Bradley McGee. As he powered up the gradual climb to the finish, it was clear he was slowing less than others before him. He didn’t win by much, but winning the prologue is the best way to show the peloton you are motivated and on form.
Almost all of the favorites finished within a narrow range of time behind Lance. The notable exceptions were Christophe Moreau and Oscar Sevilla. Neither man was so far off the lead that they have serious cause to worry about their podium chances, but they must be careful not to let today’s result be a sign of things to come. Moreau had a pretty bad fall during a motor-pace session not long ago. He could still be feeling some effects from that. Sevilla, though, just needed to go faster. Granted, it wasn’t his type of event or course, but as he matures he needs to improve in this discipline. He has the power and will to finish in the top ten; but now he has a small hole to dig himself out of, after just the first nine kilometers.
The Postal Service team’s overall performance is indicative of the team’s strength. George Hincapie held the lead for a short time early in the day; Vjatcheslav Ekimov had a good ride, as did Roberto Heras and Jose Luis Rubiera. Floyd Landis did well for his first try, especially considering his two-wheel slide in the first corner. He lost a few seconds and a little nerve, but he kept the bike upright and powered home for a nice finish. Lance has been really impressed with both Landis and Ekimov over the past few months. He is really glad to have Eki back by his side, and it is amazing how strong he is after his brief retirement.