The Tour de France Prologue is for prologue specialists, right? A 7.9km romp through the streets of London merely shows who can sustain a maximum amount of V02 wattage for a short duration of time, and nothing more.
The World Time Trial Champion, Fabian Cancellera, certainly proved he is worthy of the title, but we all know his time in yellow is short-lived. Cancellera may be powerful, but his power to weight ratio simply will not hold up once the roads of France start to tilt upward. Before you know it, Cancellera will be going backwards. His place in the classification will fall, and his Yellow Jersey will be up for grabs.
So, why should we care about the Prologue if its results are perfectly meaningless in the scheme of things?
During his 7-year reign as Tour de France champion, Lance Armstrong always gave his best effort during the opening Time Trial - no matter what the distance. In large part this was to show his rivals that when it came to the Tour, he meant business. Clearly, he aimed to intimidate his rivals by showing his awesome fitness. But Armstrong also understood that every second counts when it comes to the Tour de France.
Upon seeing Discovery Channel's Levi Leipheimer finish in 26th place, 40 seconds down on Cancellara, Versus commentator Paul Sherwin said, "Leipheimer should be happy with that result." But how could he be happy? The designated leader of the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling team (Lance Armstrong's team) barely showed up for the race. Worse yet, he finished 4th among his teammates behind George Hincapie, Vladimir Gusev and Alberto Contador. Given that Contador is reported to be climbing better than Leipheimer, how long will it be before Director Sportif Johan Bruyneel turns over the leadership mantle to Contador, relegating Leipheimer to the role of "super domestique?" Everyone knows that to win the Tour you have to time trial well and climb well. So, Leipheimer had been stand up and be counted on Stage 5 from Chablis to Autun as the peloton confronts 8 categorized climbs.
Discovery Channel is not the only team to be experiencing an early crisis in leadership. Recent Tour de Suisse winner Vladimir Karpets of Caisse d'Espargne outclassed his designated team leader and Pro Tour points leader, Alejandro Valverde. Karpets finished 6th in the prologue, 13 seconds ahead of Valverde in 32nd place.
Astana's Andreas Kloden finished 2nd in the Prologue, 17 seconds ahead of team leader, Alexander Vinokourov. Given that Kloden has finished on the Tour podium twice (2nd in 2004 and 3rd in 2006), Vino has to be concerned about Kloden's intentions. Kloden stormed the London course this year just like Armstrong did in 2004. (Coincidently, Armstrong also finished 2nd behind Cancellera in 2004).
Rising star, Dave Zabriskie of Team CSC, a noted TT specialist, put 24 seconds into team leader Carlos Sastre, who completed the Prologue in an embarrassing 92nd place. Interestingly, Dave Z has worked hard this spring on improving his climbing abilities. He rode reasonably well in the Giro, only to show up on form for the Criterium de Dauphine Libere, where he finished 5th overall. By comparison, Sastre finished 19th in the Tour de Suisse.
In short, the Tour de France Prologue is more than just a flashy introduction of this year's Tour riders. It's an early indicator of what might come in the days and weeks ahead as the peloton winds its way around France. Team leaders need to stand up and be counted in the early going, or they risk becoming highly paid worker-bees for up-and-comers within their respective teams.
This article was also published on Sportingo.com.