2012 Paris-Nice - 4-11 March
Stage 1: Dampierre-en-Yvelines - Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse 9.4km
Report: Jonathan Turner, Team Sky
Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins defied the conditions to take a close-up second to Gustav Larsson (Vacansoleil) in the opening time trial at Paris-Nice.
Wiggins was the third last out on the 9.4 kilometres course from Dampierre-en-Yvelines to Saint-Remy-les-Chevreuse and those late starters were at a marked disadvantage as rain had started to fall around half an hour before the finish.
That made the target of 11 minutes and 19 seconds set by Swedish time trial champion Larsson all the more formidable but Wiggins produced a magnificent performance on the slick roads.
He crossed the line just a second behind and the merit of that effort was underlined when Tony Martin (Omega Pharma - Quickstep), world time trial champion and last year's winner of the race, was 25 seconds slower than Larsson going out last.
It all puts Wiggins in a strong early position for the rest of this season's first WorldTour event in Europe, which features many of the men expected to battle for Tour de France glory in July.
Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma - Quickstep) took third on the day, four seconds back, while Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing) is five seconds further back in fourth.
Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil), the early pacesetter with 11:31, is fifth and the early leader of the mountains classification after clocking the quickest time up the third category Cote des Dix-sept Tournants which kicked off the route.
Wiggins, who won the concluding time trial at the Volta ao Algarve and was third overall in that event on what was his seasonal debut, was understandably happy with his start to the eight-day race when we caught up with him shortly afterwards.
He said: "I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in and I’ve had a great winter. Algarve was a great start so I’m raring to go.
"Now it’s about staying safe really. This race is known in the next few days for having a lot of crashes, potentially in the cross-winds. The weather might be a bit dodgy tomorrow too.
"There’s a lot to contend with but this is the first one out of the way – a tricky little prologue in cold weather with a bit of rain is never easy.
"I didn’t take any risks in the corners but I knew in a straight line I was flying. I wasn’t willing to find out whether it was slippery so I never really pushed it as hard as I could have done in the corners. I'd already slipped on the ramp coming off the start, so straight away I had one mind on safety in the corners. Fortunately there weren’t so many corners so it wasn’t as decisive."
Next up for Team Sky in the standings is Volta ao Algarve winner Richie Porte in 16th, just 17 seconds adrift. Geraint Thomas is 32nd, Christian Knees 35th, Danny Pate 38th, Xabier Zandio 45th, Kanstantsin Siutsou 52nd and Rigoberto Urán 79th.
But it's Larsson who will sport the yellow jersey on stage two in the “Race to the Sun” which covers 185.5km from Mantes-la-Jolie to Orleans.
1 Gustav Larsson (Swe) Vacansoleil-DCM 0:11:19
2 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:01
3 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 0:00:04
4 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:00:09
5 Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM 0:00:12
32 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Procycling @ 26 seconds