By John Trevorrow , in Strasbourg
From the wreckage of last week's mayhem emerged a magical first day of Tour de France which may just restore the fans' faith in the sport.
Six cyclists finished within four seconds of each other in the opening 7 km Tour de France prologue yesterday with Australia's Stuart O'Grady in sixth place, less than a second away from third.
Michael Rogers, less than two seconds further back in seventh place, showed that he is set to take on the role of leader of the T-Mobile team given the suspension of Jan Ullrich. "Yesterday was a shitty day and I've come out of it feeling much stronger now and more optimistic," Rogers said.
"I am looking forward to the challenges which will certainly come forward over the next three weeks."
O'Grady's ride certainly impressed CSC team boss Bjarne Riis who suggested that the red-headed South Australian should have a go for the sprints over the next few days.
"I don't think I'm mentally prepared to win the battle for the green jersey but I'm definitely going to have a go for the stage win tomorrow," O'Grady said.
Cadel Evans, not noted as a prologue specialist, rode brilliantly to finish 14th, only 13 seconds behind winner Thor Hushovd. Evans is a noted time triallist but the 7km journey was a little short for him to show his strength against the clock.
Robbie McEwen rode okay but would have been slightly disappointed at losing 28 seconds to Hushovd, and more importantly the early points for the green jersey. It also makes it more difficult for him to have a chance for the yellow before the Tour hits the hills on day 10.
Simon Gerrans lost 39 seconds but would not be too perturbed as this race is not his speciality. He was pleased with his general good health and his recovery from a crash in the GP d'Ouverture La Marseillaise on January 31. Complications after surgery for a broken collar bone kept him off the bike for many weeks.
"My shoulder is now right and the infection has cleared up. I'm not taking antibiotics anymore and although the plate is still in there with some nuts and bolts, it's a bit like taking the hand brake off," he said. "I'm ready to go now. They have left the plate in, I've still got nuts and bolts and all sort of bits and pieces in me, but I can put up with that for a few more weeks."
Morale-booster for Rogers & T-Mobile
T-Mobile's Australian time trial world champion Mick Rogers was pleased with his seventh place in the prologue even though the course wasn't ideal for him. He was T-Mobile's fastest rider in the prologue, though the team is of course now missing star Jan Ullrich and Oscar Sevilla.
"I am happy. A short course like this normally isn't suited for me. But I am happy with my ride," he said. "We've had a couple of shit days and it puts a bit of spirit back in the team. It's important that we started off positive.
"I rode a couple of laps this morning. I liked it, took a few risks on some corners and made up some time, I am really happy. I think everyone was expecting a really hard day. The morale has been down but now my morale is a lot better and I hope the rest of the team as well. It would have been nice to get someone on the podium but we will take one step at a time.
"Anyone who wants to win this race has to take control of it. I feel we have some good possibilities. Klöden is in good shape for gc. We have a team capable of winning stages. We only have seven riders. That's life. We have to pick out things and march on."
Had the events of the last couple of days provided extra motivation for Rogers? "I was certainly motivated for the team, I was motivated to do well for myself because I had a bit of trouble at the Giro with my teeth with the gum infections. It wasn't a super Tour de Suisse. I had to put head down chin up and hope for the best
"Between Switzerland and here I was able to do some good time trial work and I'm looking forward to next 20 days.
Was he feeling fresher for this year's Tour? "The team has been fantastic, Said Rogers. "They have given me a wild card right to the Tour, an easy program and every thing I need. I would like to pay that back to them during these three weeks."
Mended Gerrans confident
AG2R's Simon Gerrans was pleased with his prologue ride despite his time. "During the first part there was a big tail wind so it was harder on the way back but I went pretty well," he said. "There were a few tricky corners but the rest of it was pretty straight forward.
"I was just concentrating on good lines and the things that I could control. I'm feeling pretty good about the race. Obviously the first couple of days won't be so good for me. They will most likely be bunch sprints. Hopefully I can get myself into a few breakaways later on in the Tour. I went pretty close last year so hopefully I can step it up a bit.
After his promising showing in last year's Tour and win in the Tour Down Under earlier this year, Gerrans is confident about this year's Tour. "I'm a much better bike rider than when I came here last year so hopefully it will show through, " he said.
AG2R was one of the teams affected by the Operacion Puerto allegations. Francisco Mancebo was named in the investigation's dossier and was suspended by the team shortly before the start of the Tour. "The events of the past couple of days have changed things a bit for us, said Gerrans. "Obviously things were a bit somber when we found out that Mancebo wouldn't be racing as he was our main GC rider. But now Christophe Moreau, who was always our team leader, is going to be our main focus on classification. I think he's capable of a podium finish."
In total, Gerrans has been off the bike for about eight weeks with his shoulder injury and its complications, but he feels that might be an advantage. "I've missed about two months but I'm coming into this race a lot fresher than some of the other blokes," he said. "I've had 18 days of racing in the past three months, where as most would have had 50 or 60. I'm on my first peak for the year so I'm as fresh as and ready to go."