Team High Road's Mark Cavendish blasted his way to his fourth win of the season on the road Tuesday evening in Geneva, covering the 1.9 kilometre prologue course in 2'07.6. He beat two Liquigas riders. Daniele Bennati was the only other rider to break the 2:08 mark and finished second, while his Swiss team-mate Michael Albasini finished third.
"With two kilometers, it's like a sprint, with full throttle to the line," said the 22 year-old, who won 11 races last season. "On the return, there were very strong headwinds – whirling around," he explained, adding that this made it hard to turn his top gear. Still, the Manxman put in an average speed of 56.425 km/hour.
Cavendish has had success against the clock in the past, setting the fastest time at the 2007 Tour of Britain prologue, which was only 600 metres longer than today's effort. But the win was also part of an unusual succession of time trial victories within 48 hours. On Sunday he won the Profronde van Made by winning the time trial in the three-part (non-UCI) race.
The ProTour victory puts the High Road rider's tally up to four for the season on the road. Not quite two weeks ago he nipped none other than Tom Boonen at the finish line of the Scheldeprijs, to repeat his win of 2007. He also won two stages in the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde earlier this month. And if that's not enough, he can boast of a gold medal in the 50km Madison, along with High Road team-mate Bradley Wiggins, who finished fifth today, in the Track World Championships in Manchester last month.
The fourth place went, surprisingly, to Milram's Björn Schröder. The 27 year-old is one of the oldest on the young squad in Switzerland. "I rode a very good prologue," said the happy German. "Unfortunately it wasn't enough for a podium place. But the most important thing is my increasingly good form. I will try to be near the front in one of the coming stages."
It was a good day for the local riders, as three Swiss riders finished in the top ten: Albasini (3rd), Martin Elmiger of AG2R (8th) and Martin Kohler of BMC Racing (10th).
How it unfolded
The first rider out of the blocks was Brent Bookwalter of BMC Racing Team. The American Professional Continental Team was the only wildcard team in the race. The 24-year-old American set a time of 2:12.86.
This year's course was not a circuit, but a flat "there-and-back" course along the shores of Lake Geneva with many turns and climbs. And at only 1.9 km, it was a very short course which would not favour the usual time trialists.
The 13th rider was High Road's Bradley Wiggins, who set a time of 2:08.48, a time which it looked for a long time would hold up. The Londoner has concentrated on the track this year, as evidenced by his three gold medals in the Track World Championships last month in Manchester.
Shortly thereafter it became evident why BMC had received its wildcard: its young Swiss rider Martin Kohler crossed the line in 2:09.84, which in the end was enough for a top ten position.
Two surprises came up shortly thereafter. Milram's Björn Schröder is known as an allrounder, but his 2:08.29 was good enough for a fourth place in the end. But Swiss rider Michael Albasini of Liquigas was 28 hundredths of a second faster and took over first place.
A number of riders followed with times just shy of Schröder's, but only Daniele Bennati was able to improve upon Albasini's time, becoming the first rider to break the 2:08 mark and get ahead of his team-mate.
His time in the hot seat was limited to just a few minutes, though, as Manxman Cavendish came across the line another 27 hundredths faster.
None of the others, favourites for the overall title, could challenge him today. Andreas Klöden of Astana covered the course in 2:10.74, good enough for 21st place. He is not a prologue expert and can expect to show more in the longer time trail in stage three. Defending overall champion Thomas Dekker stayed in contention with a ninth place finish.