Eight years ago, a 22-year-old Fassa Bortolo rider blasted his way to the third fastest Tour prologue time ever to beat then five time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong by two seconds and win the opening time trial in Liège. It was of course, Fabian Cancellara and today will be looking to repeat his own piece of history.
"I still cherish the memory, especially when it allowed me to wear the yellow jersey," the RadioShack-Nissan rider admitted. "Hopefully I can do the same on Saturday. I'm not saying I'm going to win, but I will be giving it my absolute maximum."
Cancellara will be the penultimate rider out of the start gate today in Liège, with only defending Tour champion Cadel Evans (BMC) to follow. It will be a very different experience to what he faced in 2004, when 46 riders were still to cross the finish line when he completed the 6.1 kilometre course – names like Armstrong, Ullrich, Hamilton, McGee, Peschel and Moreau.
Today's 6.4 km race against the clock, is short and technical with five roundabouts to contend with, two of which will be negotiated twice. It favours a stronger rider, like Cancellara, but also the new guard – Tony Martin (Omega Pharma – QuickStep) who broke the Swiss rider's run of two world championship wins in a row late last year in Copenhagen.
Martin remained optimistic when asked about his prospects of wearing the first yellow jersey of the 2012 Tour.
"A lot of guys think that I can win the prologue and maybe get into the yellow jersey," the German said. "But I am a realist, and I think I can make a good result. Maybe top five, maybe I can win. I think for the prologue, it's normally some of the stronger, explosive riders. I am in good condition, but I give myself more of a chance in the long time trials."
It's been a difficult season for Cancellara, who earned just his third victory this season last week, at the Swiss Time Trial Championships. The 31-year-old has been feeling his way back into competitive action in recent weeks after he fractured his collarbone in a crash during the Tour of Flanders on April 1. After a surprise defeat at the hands of Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) in the Tour de Suisse time trial, Cancellara was glad to get back into the winning habit with his seventh national chrono title.