<
>

Swiss rider Cancellara wins prologue as Tour de France begins

7/8/2007 - Olympics

LONDON -- On a day when the Tour de France made a rare start
in Britain and riders sped past Parliament and Buckingham Palace,
the shadow of drugs remained inescapable in cycling.

Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara won the prologue Saturday as the
sport's premier event began amid heavy security and with a distinct
British accent.

Cancellara, the world time-trial champion who also won the Tour
prologue in 2004, completed the 4.9-mile race through downtown
London in 8 minutes, 50 seconds. He is strictly a time-trial rider
and is not expected to compete for the title in the three-week
race.

"I am really happy, that's for sure," said Cancellara, who
will wear the leader's yellow jersey for Sunday's first stage from
London to Canterbury. "I will do the maximum to defend it."

Andreas Kloeden of Germany was 13 seconds behind. George
Hincapie of the United States was next, 23 seconds off the pace.
Britain's Bradley Wiggins, looking to bring the home fans a
victory, was fourth among the 189 riders in the race against the
clock.

The prologue took place two years to the day after suicide
bombers killed 52 people on London's public transit network and as
the country confronts a new wave of terrorism. Hundreds of police
were deployed.

Cancellara's victory clearly brightened the mood of his team.
Bjarne Riis, the manager of Team CSC, said he would stay home this
year. In May, he jolted cycling by admitting he used the banned
performance enhancer EPO on his way to winning the 1996 Tour. That
immediately turned him into an outcast of sorts among race
officials.

I am really happy, that's for sure. I will do the maximum to defend it.

Fabian Cancellara

"What's really hard is when we saw that he's not with us on the
Tour, but everybody's holding up," Cancellara said. "Today was a
very important day for the team."

"There are a lot of problems in cycling, but I want to look to
the future," Cancellara added. "And if you keep looking back at
the past, of course, it's hard."

Cycling has been battered by doping scandals, accusations and
admissions the past year. And that's saying a lot for a sport
linked to widespread use of banned drugs for decades.

Riis is not alone in sitting out this year. Others excluded or
not attending this Tour are: sprint ace Alessandro Petacchi, Team
Milram boss Gianluigi Stanga, Astana riders Matthias Kessler and
Eddy Mazzoleni, Tinkoff riders Joerg Jaksche and American Tyler
Hamilton.

Tour officials, fearing that fans will turn away, required all
riders to sign a new International Cycling Union anti-doping
commitment. Riders pledged that they are not involved in doping and
promised to submit DNA samples to Spanish authorities in the
Operation Puerto investigation that began last year. Cyclists also
had to agree to pay a year's salary on top of a two-year ban if
caught doping.

"Doping is the enemy of cycling," Tour director Christian
Prudhomme said. "Sport is a reflection of society, and there are
wonderful people involved in cycling."

As stage winner, Cancellara was automatically tested for doping,
though the results will not be known for several days.

After last year's Tour, Floyd Landis tested positive for
synthetic testosterone, an accusation the American has repeatedly,
and at times clumsily, denied. An arbitration panel is considering
whether Landis should lose his title after the positive test
following his dramatic victory in the 17th stage last year. He
claims he's been wronged by a French lab.

While the Tour has twice come to Britain, the London debut was a
first. Organizers, looking to make a clean start, clearly hoped to
draw on the novelty and the enthusiasm of British fans.

The last time the Tour went through Britain was in 1994, when an
estimated 2 million people crowded the route. Thousands turned out
this year, many in support of local favorites.

"For five, six, eight minutes, all I could hear was 'David!
David! David!"' said Britain's David Millar, who finished 13th.
"It was magnificent."

The overall favorites include Kloeden, teammate Alexandre
Vinokourov of Kazakhstan, Levi Leipheimer of the U.S., Cadel Evans
of Australia, Denis Menchov of Russia, Christophe Moreau of France
and Spanish riders Alejandro Valverde, Oscar Pereiro and Carlos
Sastre.

The Tour will cover 2,120 miles and feature six mountain hikes,
three summit finishes and two individual time trials. In the
prologue, with riders setting off one by one, the field whirred
past classic London landmarks and through Hyde Park.

Cancellara was followed by Kloeden, who was third in the 2006
Tour and was runner-up to Lance Armstrong in 2004. Kloeden is a
newcomer to the Astana team, which was ousted from the Tour last
year after five of its riders turned up in the Puerto file.
Hincapie, a former Armstrong lieutenant, was runner-up by a
split-second in last year's prologue.

Stuart O'Grady of Australia took a spill after hitting a straw
barrier coming out of a turn, losing time as he hopped on a new
bike that was delivered from a trailing support car.

"It's a shame. I was feeling good, but that's sport," O'Grady
said. "You win some, you lose some."