Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara celebrates after winning the 6.4 km individual time-trial and prologue in Liege
Olympic champion Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland won the race-opening prologue of the Tour de France here Saturday to claim the first leader's yellow jersey of the 99th edition.
RadioShack rider Cancellara, who clocked a winning time of 7min 13.46sec for the 6.4km course, repeated his feat of 2004 on an almost identical course in the centre of Liege to boost what has been a disastrous season.
"It's great. I'm really proud to have won here today eight years after my first Tour victory in Liege," said Cancellara, who now has four prologue victories in the race.
"It hasn't been the best season for me, but this really helps make amends.
"You can't ask for a better start. I left everything out on the road today and am very proud of what I've achieved."
Britain's Bradley Wiggins (Sky), the favourite for overall victory, was second at 7sec, less than half a second ahead of Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel of Omega-Pharma.
"I'm really happy, the legs felt good and I stayed calm and relaxed," said Wiggins.
"It's a good start and the main thing was to stay upright, safe and trouble-free - it's nice to get this first day out of the way.
"Fair play to Fabian, he's the best in the world at what he does and I think he proved that again today."
Although only a short time trial, some yellow jersey contenders as well as a handful of outsiders hoping to challenge for the race's big prize were left counting their gains and losses.
Defending yellow jersey champion Cadel Evans of Australia was last off the ramp and limited his losses on Wiggins by finishing 13th at 17sec behind Cancellara and 10 behind Wiggins.
"It was not good, but not bad," said Evans, a two-time runner-up who in 2011 became the first Australian to win the race.
"Of course I'd rather concede less seconds, you never want to lose time.
"There's only one GC (general classification) rider ahead of me, but I was half expecting that with Wiggins, with his background in very short, flat efforts.
"It's 6.4 km out of 3500, so in that regard it's a small comparison. The real racing starts tomorrow."
Any disappointment from the BMC camp on Evans' performance will be balanced out by Tejay Van Garderen's promising fourth-place finish, at 10sec behind Cancellara.
The American, who is set to be one of Evan's main helpers in the mountains, pulled on the white jersey for the best placed rider aged 25 and under.
Italian Vincenzo Nibali, considered by many as the man most likely to threaten Wiggins and Evans, did well to finish 14th just 11sec behind the Londoner and 1sec behind Evans.
Some outsiders, however, have already lost precious time.
Luxembourg's Frank Schleck, who finished third overall last year, finished 135th at 38sec behind teammate Cancellara.
Movistar's contender Alejandro Valverde of Spain, who is hoping for a podium spot, finished at 35sec.
Others who had been hoping to grab victory and start the race Sunday wearing the fabled yellow jersey suffered misfortune.
Slovakia's Peter Sagan, heralded as a big challenger to Cancellara, did not get the start he expected and lost more time when his foot came out of his pedal cleat as he negotiated a left hand bend.
The Slovakian eventually finished 52nd at 24sec behind.
Germany's Tony Martin, who succeeded Cancellara as world time trial champion in 2011, was firing on all cylinders until he suffered a puncture which probably cost him the yellow jersey.
He ended up finishing 44th at just 23sec behind the Swiss winner.
"I was on a good time, but after my puncture I had to change bike. Without that I would have had an even better time," said the Omega-Pharma rider.
"I'm disappointed, of course. I've been planning for this for a long time."