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The God of Thunder strikes in Strasbourg

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Thor Hushovd (CA)

Thor Hushovd (CA) (Image credit: AFP)
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Thor Hushovd (CA)

Thor Hushovd (CA) (Image credit: Sirotti)
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George Hincapie (Discovery)

George Hincapie (Discovery) (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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David Zabriskie (CSC)

David Zabriskie (CSC) (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner)

Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery)

Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery) (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Thor Hushovd (CA)

Thor Hushovd (CA) (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak)

Floyd Landis (Phonak) (Image credit: Sirotti)
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George Hincapie (Discovery)

George Hincapie (Discovery) (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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Chris Horner (Davitamon-Lotto) comes through for a respectable 19th place finish, only 15 seconds back.

Chris Horner (Davitamon-Lotto) comes through for a respectable 19th place finish, only 15 seconds back. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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David Millar (Saunier Duval-Prodir) was back to ride his first Tour prologue in 2 years.

David Millar (Saunier Duval-Prodir) was back to ride his first Tour prologue in 2 years. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Haimar Zubeldia (Eusklatel-Euskadi) comes by looking strong.

Haimar Zubeldia (Eusklatel-Euskadi) comes by looking strong. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) sporting the new German National Champion stripes.

Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) sporting the new German National Champion stripes. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Christian Vandevelde (CSC) is back to help the team again this year.

Christian Vandevelde (CSC) is back to help the team again this year. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Giuseppe Guerini (T-Mobile) gets the power to the pedals.

Giuseppe Guerini (T-Mobile) gets the power to the pedals. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Stuart O'Grady (CSC) had a great ride for 6th place, 4 seconds down.

Stuart O'Grady (CSC) had a great ride for 6th place, 4 seconds down. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Sebastian Joly (Française Des Jeux) tongue out and going fast.

Sebastian Joly (Française Des Jeux) tongue out and going fast. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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David Arroyo (Caisse D'Epargne-Illes Balears) heads into a turn.

David Arroyo (Caisse D'Epargne-Illes Balears) heads into a turn. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Jens Voigt, CSC powerhouse comes though.

Jens Voigt, CSC powerhouse comes though. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Robbie Hunter (Phonak) rode well coming in 22 seconds back.

Robbie Hunter (Phonak) rode well coming in 22 seconds back. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery) on his way to 8th place.

Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery) on his way to 8th place. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Bobby Julich (CSC) looking very fit.

Bobby Julich (CSC) looking very fit. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) off to a good start.

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) off to a good start. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) coming in at 9 seconds back.

Floyd Landis (Phonak) coming in at 9 seconds back. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) has high hopes riding on him for this year's Tour.

Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) has high hopes riding on him for this year's Tour. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Axel Merckx (Phonak) will be there later for team leader Floyd Landis.

Axel Merckx (Phonak) will be there later for team leader Floyd Landis. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) might just get another shot at a yellow jersey this year.

Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) might just get another shot at a yellow jersey this year. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) comes in with the fastest time of 8:17.

Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) comes in with the fastest time of 8:17. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Christophe Moreau (AG2R), the French hope, had a good ride at 13 seconds back.

Christophe Moreau (AG2R), the French hope, had a good ride at 13 seconds back. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) World Time Trial Champion on his way in.

Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) World Time Trial Champion on his way in. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Dave Zabriskie (CSC) looking focused as usual, wound up in 3rd.

Dave Zabriskie (CSC) looking focused as usual, wound up in 3rd. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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George Hincapie (Discovery) almost caught Hushovd at 4 seconds back.

George Hincapie (Discovery) almost caught Hushovd at 4 seconds back. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) gets to start the Tour with the maillot jaune.

Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) gets to start the Tour with the maillot jaune. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Stuart O'Grady (CSC) on the ramp

Stuart O'Grady (CSC) on the ramp (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) with Felice Gimondi

Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) with Felice Gimondi (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval) enjoying his warm up

Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval) enjoying his warm up (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Don’t mess with Jose Rujano

Don’t mess with Jose Rujano (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval) focuses

Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval) focuses (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre-Fondital) pre-start

Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre-Fondital) pre-start (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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David Millar (Saunier Duval) gets the count down

David Millar (Saunier Duval) gets the count down (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) on the start ramp

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) on the start ramp (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Erik Zabel (Milram) is anxious to go

Erik Zabel (Milram) is anxious to go (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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David Millar (Saunier Duval) a little nervous

David Millar (Saunier Duval) a little nervous (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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David Millar (Saunier Duval)

David Millar (Saunier Duval) (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) steps up

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) steps up (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) trying to keep his helmet in frame

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) trying to keep his helmet in frame (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Denis Menchov (Rabobank) gets ready

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) gets ready (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Thor Hushovd (CA) rode a great TT to win in hard conditions

Thor Hushovd (CA) rode a great TT to win in hard conditions (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Thor Hushovd (CA) in action

Thor Hushovd (CA) in action (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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George Hincapie (Discovery) gets up to speed

George Hincapie (Discovery) gets up to speed (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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David Zabriskie (CSC) had a good ride for third

David Zabriskie (CSC) had a good ride for third (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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David Zabriskie (CSC) pushes for the line

David Zabriskie (CSC) pushes for the line (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) was a solid fifth

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) was a solid fifth (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) missed his start, but recovered well to finish 9th

Floyd Landis (Phonak) missed his start, but recovered well to finish 9th (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) struggled a bit today

Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) struggled a bit today (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Stuart O'Grady (CSC) opened up well

Stuart O'Grady (CSC) opened up well (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Jose Rujano (Quick.Step) in his first race in the new colours

Jose Rujano (Quick.Step) in his first race in the new colours (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) is not a TT specialist

Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) is not a TT specialist (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery) slightly off the pace in 32nd

Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery) slightly off the pace in 32nd (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) the French TT champ

Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) the French TT champ (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval) finished just outside the top 50

Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval) finished just outside the top 50 (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre-Fondital) was 45th

Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre-Fondital) was 45th (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) was 24th on the day

Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) was 24th on the day (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Carlos Sastre (CSC) rides in the prologue

Carlos Sastre (CSC) rides in the prologue (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery) was a good eighth

Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery) was a good eighth (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Erik Zabel (Milram) was just inside the top 100

Erik Zabel (Milram) was just inside the top 100 (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues) looks ahead

Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues) looks ahead (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) on his way

Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) on his way (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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David Millar (Saunier Duval) cranks up the volume

David Millar (Saunier Duval) cranks up the volume (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) in action

Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) in action (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) was among the top sprinters

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) was among the top sprinters (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) in action

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) in action (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) gives it gas

Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) gives it gas (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Denis Menchov (Rabobank) winds 'er up

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) winds 'er up (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) focuses

Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) focuses (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Christophe Moreau (AG2R) gets going

Christophe Moreau (AG2R) gets going (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) changes up a gear

Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) changes up a gear (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Denis Menchov (Rabobank) breathes deep

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) breathes deep (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) in his element

Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) in his element (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Thor Hushovd (CA) stage winner

Thor Hushovd (CA) stage winner (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Thor Hushovd (CA) salutes from the podium

Thor Hushovd (CA) salutes from the podium (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Mighty Thor prologue winner

Mighty Thor prologue winner (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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May I help you with that? Why, thank you.

May I help you with that? Why, thank you. (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Yep, it's real

Yep, it's real (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Thor Hushovd (CA) with his lion and flowers

Thor Hushovd (CA) with his lion and flowers (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Thor Hushovd (CA) smiles in yellow

Thor Hushovd (CA) smiles in yellow (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Yellow jersey winner Thor Hushovd

Yellow jersey winner Thor Hushovd (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Thor Hushovd (CA) in his favoured colour, green

Thor Hushovd (CA) in his favoured colour, green (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Thor Hushovd (CA) in full flight

Thor Hushovd (CA) in full flight (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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George Hincapie (Discovery) full power

George Hincapie (Discovery) full power (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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George Hincapie (Discovery) drives for the line

George Hincapie (Discovery) drives for the line (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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David Millar (Saunier Duval) propels the bike forwards

David Millar (Saunier Duval) propels the bike forwards (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Italian TT champ Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre-Fondital)

Italian TT champ Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre-Fondital) (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Who's a happy viking? Thor Hushovd on the podium

Who's a happy viking? Thor Hushovd on the podium (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Thor Hushovd (CA) powers to victory in the opening time trial

Thor Hushovd (CA) powers to victory in the opening time trial (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Thor Hushovd (CA) leaves the start gate

Thor Hushovd (CA) leaves the start gate (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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George Hincapie (Discovery) rode well to finish second

George Hincapie (Discovery) rode well to finish second (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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David Millar (Saunier Duval) sets off in his comeback ride

David Millar (Saunier Duval) sets off in his comeback ride (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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This place will be more crowded later on.

This place will be more crowded later on. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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In the last corner the German victory over Argentina is celebrated... and some new asphalt is being placed over the tram track.

In the last corner the German victory over Argentina is celebrated... and some new asphalt is being placed over the tram track. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Magnus Backstedt enjoying the coolness of the morning.

Magnus Backstedt enjoying the coolness of the morning. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Backstedt inspecting his time trial bike.

Backstedt inspecting his time trial bike. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Backstedt joking around with the technicians.

Backstedt joking around with the technicians. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Stefano Garzelli was also having a look at the time trial bikes.

Stefano Garzelli was also having a look at the time trial bikes. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Luca Paolini wants to test his bike.

Luca Paolini wants to test his bike. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Backstedt testing the position on the bike.

Backstedt testing the position on the bike. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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The time trial bikes of team Liquigas.

The time trial bikes of team Liquigas. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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The start ramp being installed.

The start ramp being installed. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Will we see some new faces in this Tour de France?

Will we see some new faces in this Tour de France? (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Steven De Jongh was warming up together with Pieter Weening.

Steven De Jongh was warming up together with Pieter Weening. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Veteran Ekimov talking tactics.

Veteran Ekimov talking tactics. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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A Bouygues Telecom rider

A Bouygues Telecom rider (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Tour de France is in search of a new winner...there are enough candidates.

Tour de France is in search of a new winner...there are enough candidates. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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The podium waiting for some action to come.

The podium waiting for some action to come. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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A Lampre-Fondital rider

A Lampre-Fondital rider (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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A sorry sight

A sorry sight (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Hot day in Strasbourg

Hot day in Strasbourg (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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You don't wanna mess with this guy, Magnus Bäckstedt

You don't wanna mess with this guy, Magnus Bäckstedt (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Paolo Savoldelli

Paolo Savoldelli (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Silent prayer for Eric Zabel

Silent prayer for Eric Zabel (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Bernard Eisel (FDJ) doesn't pay attention to Marc Madiot

Bernard Eisel (FDJ) doesn't pay attention to Marc Madiot (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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David Canada goes

David Canada goes (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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So does Pavel Padrnos

So does Pavel Padrnos (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Swedish colours for Gustav Larsson

Swedish colours for Gustav Larsson (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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José Rujano wears Quick-Step gear

José Rujano wears Quick-Step gear (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Magnus Bäckstedt goes

Magnus Bäckstedt goes (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Underneath McEwen

Underneath McEwen (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Gilberto Simoni gets attention

Gilberto Simoni gets attention (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Paolo Savoldelli final adjustments

Paolo Savoldelli final adjustments (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Danilo Di Luca

Danilo Di Luca (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Valverde gets a bike and everything is fine

Valverde gets a bike and everything is fine (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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The light shines on Tom Boonen

The light shines on Tom Boonen (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)

Thankfully, after the dramatic events of yesterday, there was something else to talk about. Flying down Strasbourg's Avenue Herrenschmidt and passing through the arrivée with a time of eight minutes seventeen, Crédit Agricole's Thor Hushovd set a magnificent average speed of 51.429 kilometres per hour, surpassing 176 others and earning the right to wear the first maillot jaune of the 93rd Tour de France.

"In my mind, I did the perfect time trial," stated the 28 year-old Norweigan. "To win a prologue, you have to be in good form, and I've been really confident the last few weeks, the last month, because I knew my form was here. And with the experience from other years, I'm quite sure this is my best form ever.

73 hundredths of a second separated Hushovd from second - but he had to wait until the very last coureur to find out, as it was Discovery Channel rider George Hincapie's time that almost saw the 33 year-old American from South Carolina steal the maillot jaune from under Thor's nose.

Responded Hushovd about beating a host of prologue specialists: "Yeah, I'm surprised, but I knew I could win. In 2004 [Tour de France], in Liège, I was fifth, so that shows when I have good form, I can do well in prologues."

Providing some indication as to just how tight this Tour will be, four riders - David Zabriskie (Team CSC), Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) and Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC) - all finished four seconds behind Hushovd.

No doubt, the biggest surprise packet here is Valverde; it appears the versatile sprinter/ climber has added another arrow to his quiver of talents, and his skills against the clock have now improved to such an extent, the 26 year-old Spaniard has become a world-class prologue rider.

Out of this quartet, Lang and O'Grady would be thinking about collecting enough bonus seconds for a bite at yellow, and the following stages provide plenty of opportunity. But Hushovd isn't thinking about letting it go.

"For the team, and as well for me, it's really important to try and keep this jersey as long as possible, and I'm sure we will try and defend it as many days as we can," he said. "The perfect day for us tomorrow is to let a few guys go away, and then we are going have a few other sprinters' teams help us [chase down the break]... then the big fight between me, Boonen and McEwen starts - and then we see who is fastest."

Other good performances came from world time trial champ Michael Rogers (T-Mobile Team), Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel), Floyd Landis (Phonak) and Vladimir Karpets (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), seventh to tenth respectively. And Joost Posthuma's 23rd placing was enough to give the 25 year-old the opening maillot blanc as best young rider.

The former winner of a stage in last year's Paris-Nice had the fastest split time, but couldn't maintain his efforts till the end, finishing 16 seconds of the mark. "The motor switched off and there's a really nasty wind blowing out there," said Posthuma to Cyclingnews.

""I know that I'm a specialist and started off full gas. I'm really dead now, so that's a good sign... I couldn't do it much faster," he said. "With Menchov, Rasmussen and also Freire for the sprints, I think our team might surprise many people in the Tour de France."

Has this set the scene for a clean, interesting, watchable Tour de France?

"I really hope the public will follow us, and the atmosphere in the Tour will be really nice," said Hushovd. "Of course, with what's happened in the last days, it's not easy; it's not nice when something like this happens before the start of the Tour. I think it's very sad for cycling, but I think it's sometimes good to clean things.

"You also have to think about [all of] us still here. We really worked a lot to be selected for the Tour, and cycling is our life... we really like our sport, and I just hope the public will keep on supporting us."

So maybe not totally clean, but certainly cleaner than it was one day ago. Interesting? Yes; instead of two outright favourites, there are now at least eight contenders with a shot at winning overall.

And watchable? Le Tour should never be missed.

How it unfolded

The 93rd Tour de France opened today with a fast, completely flat and somewhat technical 7.1km rush through the Alsatian capital of Strasbourg. Starting in the Square de Tivoli, the course headed east and then makes a right and left turn to head along the Parc de l'Orangerie, then made another left to head south along the Basssin des Remparts canal with an intermediate time check after 3.7km on the Quai des Belges.

700m later, the prologue made a sharp right after 4km into the city streets, where the course got more technical for a kilometre. With 2km to race, the parcours burst back onto the wide Boulevard d'Anvers and finished on the Avenue Herrenschmidt in front of the Palais de la Musique et des Congres.

On a beautiful sunny afternoon with temps around thirty degrees and a northwest wind 10-15km/h, Frenchman Cederic Coutouly (Agritubel) first of 176 riders off at 1:15 CET, and early fast time was set by Phonak's Ralph Grabsch at 8'31.890" at 1:33. American Chris Horner (Davitamon-Lotto) got within one second of Grabsch, but the Phonak man held on to the lead as the clock passed 2pm. But fifteen minutes later, his German countryman Seb Lang (Gerolsteiner) hammered home 10" faster in 8'21.80, a 51.0km/h average.

German TT champ Lang stayed in the lead, as O'Grady got within two-hundreths of a second, while best GC rider to that point was Caisse d'Epargne's big Russian Vlad Karpets in 8'27". Wearing dossard #11 as CSC team leader, Paris-Nice prologue winner Bobby Julich, who started fast but finished out of the top 10 up to that point. Discovery Channel's Yaro Popovych finished in 8'37", 10" behind Karpets for a decent time, while next up was French TT champ Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), but the Frenchman slowed in the final.

Lang had held the fastest time for over an hour and as the westerly increased during the course of the afternoon, making the two last kilometres of the Tour prologue became harder and harder. Discovery Channel's Giro d'Italia prologue winner Paolo Savoldelli screamed home to third fastest time, just ahead of Karpets, while Saunier Duval's Mr. Clean David Millar came through the time check 8" behind the best time, showing a little lack of power after his long absence from competition. Millar's average was 50km/h and his time was excellent, just 7" behind Lang.

After almost two hours in the lead, Seb Lang saw giant Viking Hushovd (Credit Agricole) power home with the new fastest time of 8'17.01", an average speed of 51.4km/h. It would be difficult to best Hushovd's time, but the Tour de France's best riders were still yet to race. ProTour leader Valverde got close with his 8'21.92" but was just twelve hundredths behind Lang for third fastest at that point. Big bad Boonen was next up and the Quick.Step world champ had a strong ride to finish in 8'28".

Looking like a giant preying mantis with his outré Oakleys, Phonak's Floyd Landis had a clumsy start, losing an estimated 8-10 seconds as his team mechanic changed his cut tire just before the start rather than risk a flat on the road. Crouched his Obree-esque TT position, the American powered to 8'26", showing his great form as the Tour starts, and his mechanical may have cost Landis the maillot jaune. Next up was a compact, focused Leipheimer, who clocked a respectable 8'38.61, just under 50km/h.

Yet another Yank hit the road, as CSC's pre-race favourite David Zabriskie (CSC), winner of the 2005 Tour stage 1 TT was quick out of the start house, and at the intermediate time check on the Quai des Belges, was just 0'01 behind leader Hushovd. '01 Tour Prologue winner and AG2R leader by default Christophe Moreau then came home with a good 8'30, while T-Mobile's World TT champ Mick Rogers crossed the line in his rainbow jersey in 8'23.31, still 0'06 behind Hushovd.

As Zabriskie was streaking towards the finish over the last two kilometres, Discovery Channel's George Hincapie was off to a great start in the prologue. Big George was 1" behind Hushovd and equal with Dave Z at the intermediate time check and tongue akimbo, powering a huge gear, Hincapie was simply flying through the streets of Strasbourg. At the finish line on Avenue Herrenschmidt, Zabriskie missed beating Hushovd by 4.22 seconds and it was now just down to Hincapie to unseat the Norwegian from the lead.

Under the flamme rouge with 1km to go, Hincapie looked like he could grab the first maillot jaune of the 2006 Tour, but as he threw his bike at the line, the digital chronometer above the finish line revealed that the Discovery Channel rider had lost by just .73 hundredths of a second. Thus, the honour went to Credit Agricole's 28 year-old Norwegian from Grimstad, Thor Hushovd, who had won Gent-Wevelghem and a stage of the Volta a Catalunya this season and took his third Tour de France stage win for the biggest win of his career.

Although the 7.1km Prologue won't make a difference in the final general classification, it's a good indication of which favourites are in good form at the start of the three week Grand Tour. GC riders George Hincapie (Discovery Channel), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Floyd Landis (Phonak), Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto), Christophe Moreau (Ag2r), Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) and Bobby Julich (CSC) all finished in the top 30 within 20" of new maillot jaune Hushovd.

Further back were Discovery Channel's Popovych (32nd @ 20") and Azevedo (49th @ 20"), Gerolsteiner's Levi Leipheimer (36th @ 21"), Rabobank's Denis Menchov (56th @ 26"), while Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) lost 41" to finish 126th. But with 3,650km and three weeks of racing to go, the 2006 Tour de France is still wide open.

Sunday, July 2 - Stage 1: Strasbourg-Strasbourg, 183 km

Sunday's flat sprinters' stage starts and finishes in Strasbourg, with a 30km incursion into Germany at the end of the stage. After heading north for 30km to the rolling hills of Kocherberg, the parcours turns south after the first sprint in Saverne along the narrow, winding Route de Vins, then through Molsheim, the home of Bugatti just before the feed zone.

The Tour heads south for another 15km until the one and only GPM of the day, a Cat 4 climb on the 1.1km Cote de Heiligenstein with 83km to go. Then it's due east, then due north for another sprint in Plobsheim, across the Rhein River into Germany, through Offenbach and yet another sprint in Kehl at the Franco/German border with 9km to go before heading back to France to finish on the Avenue de la Foret Noire.

Sunday should be a tight, tense day with plenty of crashes as always to set-up a big battle between Boonen's Quick.Step, McEwen's Davitamon-Lotto and Zabel's Milram teams to knock off maillot jaune Thor Hushovd and his Credit Agricole squad and win the first en ligne stage at Le Tour '06.

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