Lance Armstrong got his Tour de France off to an impressive start, finishing fourth in the opening 8.9km prologue in Rotterdam, on Saturday.
The seven-time Tour winner clocked 10:22, 22 seconds behind winner Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), but beat all of his key rivals for the yellow jersey. Defending champion Alberto Contador (Astana) finished five seconds down on the Team RadioShack American, while last year's other podium placer, Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), finished well off the pace in 122nd, 1:09 down on Cancellara.
Asked if the result had met his pre-race expectations, Armstrong said, "I think step-by-step it's gotten better. I've had the setbacks obviously, but I'm pretty content with it."
Armstrong came into the Tour de France after having a less than ideal build up to the race. He crashed out of the Amgen Tour of California, while doping allegations made by Floyd Landis surfaced at California and again made headlines yesterday in the Wall Street Journal. However, Armstrong, who has faced doping allegations since he first won the Tour in 1999, was quick to downplay any negative effect they may have had on his preparation for the Tour.
"It's been ten years, ten years. It's nothing new. Anything else? We made the reaction this morning," Armstrong said. "For years, sensational stories - based on the allegations of ax-grinders - have surfaced on the eve of the Tour for publicity reasons, and this article is simply no different."
Armstrong issued a statement earlier in the day in which he'd refuted Landis with the following: "Landis' credibility is like a carton of sour milk: once you take the first sip, you don't have to drink the rest to know it has all gone bad."
As for his form, the 38-year-old American believes he's ahead of where he was this time last year and that his new preparation of not racing the Giro d'Italia and competing at the Tour de Suisse - where he finished second - have stood him in good stead.
"I think I'm a little ahead to be honest," said Armstrong. "There's a lot of differences from last year. I did the Giro, had a one month break, but at least this year I had races in June. In general racing in June is a better route and no regrets. The testing I've been doing based on time and wattage is where I need to be. We just have to see where the others are."
But Armstrong wasn't willing to get ahead of himself, noting that the wet conditions affected many of the overall favourites. "We'll look at the final time and time splits. You can't forget that some guys went when it was absolutely soaking wet and that plays a factor into the times and results. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. This is a long three weeks."