After all the talk, you could sense the release of tension all around the Tour de France as the racing finally got under way today, and nowhere more so than at Team Sky, who have been the centre of so much attention in recent days. The British squad had a great day all round, with Bradley Wiggins finishing second, Edvald Boasson Hagen fifth and Chris Froome 11th, and with no mishaps to report on what was a tricky prologue course tackled in gusty conditions.
Tour favourite Wiggins said he was glad to get the opening day's racing out of the way, and happy that it had gone so well for him. "I finished second, which is a good start. Physically, I felt fantastic out there," said the Briton, who gained at least six seconds on all his likely GC rivals and half a minute on some of them.
Wiggins said that after doing recon of the Liège prologue course in the morning, he noticed that there were several tricky sections and decided not to take any major risks. "I concentrated on physically doing everything we've been training for," he said. "There was a cobbled section and a few drains on the way out, there was an off-camber roundabout where again I didn't take any major risks.
"There's a commitment in that kind of race for the stage win and there's a commitment thinking of the three weeks, and I took the second option. I didn't go across the first section of cobbles on the tri-bars – I came off them for safety reasons. I felt in control during the first half and then just stepped it up."
Asked about Sky boss Dave Brailsford's post-stage comment that the team didn't want the yellow jersey, Wiggins said: "I wouldn't say I didn't want the yellow jersey. I would have taken it. But I did say to the team last night that there's one man who could beat me and that's Fabian [Cancellara]. He's always king of those things and he's proved once again that he's the best in the world."
Like his team leader, Brailsford looked very satisfied with the day's outcome. "The objective beforehand was to get the team through in good shape and to gain some time on the GC riders if possible, to get a few seconds on them. We didn't really want to win it. It would have been nice to have won it, but we didn't really want the yellow jersey right from the very off. It would have complicated issues for us in terms of the bigger picture, so it's been the ideal start," he said.
Brailsford was quick to pay tribute to his team leader, admitting he was particularly impressed with the way Wiggins had performed given the pressure that has been building on him. "Bradley's had a lot to do in the last few days. The media intensity around him is massive, and the expectation that's put on him is bigger than ever. But after all that he's delivered and he's shown that he's very, very strong. His last kilo was very fast. He looked really impressive," said Brailsford.
"I think what's really positive is that when there is so much extra pressure on someone and you can put all that to one side and step up and deliver like Bradley has done today, then it shows that he's a big time performer and that you can rely on him. He deserves a lot of credit for doing as well as he did today in this environment."
Brailsford also paid tribute to his team's other leading performers on the day. "I think Froomey did a great ride and Edvald did a super ride – technically, a very good ride indeed, so that was really rewarding."
Asked about Boasson Hagen's prospects on tomorrow's uphill finish in Seraing, the Sky boss agreed that it should suit the Norwegian powerhouse, but admitted he's got other priorities. "The first thing to do tomorrow is to get everyone through the stage safely. If Edvald is then in a position to win I think he will certainly be in with a chance as it's his kind of final."
Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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