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Those prologue results: What do they mean?

The prologue to a major stage race always seems to be watched with more interest than all but the most difficult mountain stages. No one knows who will be riding well until this first little test gives its hints. But how accurate are these hints as to the form of a rider when it comes to pursuing the overall title? And how can we use the prologue as a crytstal ball to see what's to come? Well, despite all the talk of a prologue just being a little warm-up, and not really meaning much for a three-week tour, I think it's an excellent indicator of overall form. No, I don't think Brad McGee will

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By Jonathan Vaughters, Prime Alliance Cycling Team

The prologue to a major stage race always seems to be watched with more interest than all but the most difficult mountain stages. No one knows who will be riding well until this first little test gives its hints. But how accurate are these hints as to the form of a rider when it comes to pursuing the overall title? And how can we use the prologue as a crytstal ball to see what’s to come?

Well, despite all the talk of a prologue just being a little warm-up, and not really meaning much for a three-week tour, I think it’s an excellent indicator of overall form. No, I don’t think Brad McGee will win the Tour de France, after his well-deserved win in the prologue, but I do think it showed us who may be riding well, and who is a little off boil.

My most compelling argument is simple: In most instances in the modern era of cycling, the overall winner of the TdF will finish in the first five in the prologue. Just look: In 1987, Stephen Roche was third in the prologue, LeMond took fourth in ’89 and second in ’90; Indurain finished in the top three in all five of his wins; and Armstrong won in ‘99, was second in 2000, third in 2001 and first again last year. There are exceptions – Marco Pantani won his Tour after finishing dead last in the prologue – but for the most part, the guy who wins the race also rides a pretty good prologue.

It’s not surprsing, really. A prologue is an excellent indicator of the aerobic and anaerobic power combination that constitutes cycling fitness. The prologue combines the need for pure power with the maximum capacity of one’s heart and lungs. Only a very talented and fit cyclist can do well in such a test.

So, what does this mean for this particular TdF? Well, considering the course, which was very short, – even for a prologue – technical, and flat, I’d say the first thing noticeable is how well Simoni did. He is a rider like Pantani, who can be in the last half of the results in the prologue and still win. In this case, he was quite close to the top on a course that didn’t suit him. If he can keep fatigue at bay from the Giro, he’s looking good.

Jan Ullrich did well too. I think his power is back to 100 percent, perhaps better than before his problems, as often happens when riders are faced with a long break. However, Ullrich’s durability for three weeks will be a bit in question.

Lance didn’t do such a great ride, but again, I don’t think it’s unexpected. Over the years, Lance has slowly been turning into more of a climber and less of a time trialist. He’s slowed a bit in the short time trials. Yes, he won the prologue in the TdF last year, but that was a hilly course, suited to him. This course was all about speed, and he’s lost a bit.

Do I think this means Lance’s chance for a win is over? Nope. I think he’ll have a tougher time of it this year, but he’ll still win.

I mean, it’s just a little prologue, right?