By Ben Atkins in London, England
Two local riders with nothing to lose enjoyed their baptism of fire at the Tour de France this afternoon.
Mark Cavendish (T-Mobile) and Geraint Thomas (Barloworld) are two of the youngest riders on the race and therefore had none of the pressure of expectation that their more experienced compatriots had to endure.
Cavendish finished a highly respectable 69th; losing just 52 seconds to rampaging World time trial champion Fabian Cancellara. He's here for experience, and to see how he fares in the sprint stages and so the prologue was really an opportunity to enjoy the home support.
"Yeah, massive it was amazing!" was Cavendish's verdict on what it was like to ride his first 7.9 kilometres of Tour de France in front of a very vocal home crowd. "I've got no ambition to do well in it, so it was just a case of getting a nice big blow out before I start the week really."
The Manxman has ridden - and won - some major races in first his full season in the ProTour, but has yet to experience anything as big as the Tour, especially when such a large part of the crowd were cheering for him. "[They were] amazing, just like a wall of noise the whole way round it was just amazing to see, you know."
The prospect of taking on big sprint rivals like Boonen and McEwen (who he has already beaten this season) doesn't worry him now as he feels good about his form going in to the first road stage. "Yeah, I had quite good legs to be honest. We'll have to see, it's my first Tour you know, I'm not going in with my head in the clouds about it, so we'll just see how it goes."
Welshman Geraint Thomas is a member of Great Britain's World championship winning pursuit team and so was well suited to the course. As this year's youngest Tour rider there was no pressure whatsoever, but he still managed 45th, 47 seconds back.
He too found that the British fans getting behind him inspired his better than expected performance. "When I rode round in the warm up it was just awesome... hearing people call my name, it was just a real experience. I mean I've been in the Tour of Britain and I thought that was great but this was just another level, and I think it's what the Tour is all about really."
Starting two minutes behind Cavendish, Thomas had a rival to chase, but they are team-mates on the Great Britain track squad, so their friendship showed through right up to the start house. "It was the same in the Electra Tour the other week, so I gave him a cheer when he went off."
"Obviously it would have been good to beat a fellow Brit, [he actually did, by five seconds] but we're really good mates and I'm looking forward to the next few days racing together."
All riders seemed to find the middle few kilometres tough, into the westerly wind, but the headwind turned to a tailwind for the last section, and a powerful pursuiter like Thomas was always going to take advantage any help form the elements. "Just going out it was real hard, a bit of a headwind, a bit of a block headwind, a really rough road as well, but on the way back it was just a blast. You know when you're on it, you can really tell, it was fast down that little descent."
These guys are only in the Tour to learn, but they're both learning pretty fast.