SACRAMENTO, California, Feb 14, 2009 (AFP) -Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara won the Tour of California time-trial prologue here Saturday ahead of two-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer, whose teammate Lance Armstrong was 10th.
Saxo Bank’s Cancellara, who donned the leader’s yellow jersey for the nine-day race, completed the 3.8km route on the streets of the California state capital in 4min 32.90sec.
Astana’s Leipheimer finished 1.21sec behind. Third place went to time-trial specialist David Zabriskie of the United States, who rides for Garmin.
Seven-time Tour de France champion Armstrong, riding his second race since launching his comeback to the sport with a 29th-place finish at the Tour Down Under in Australia last month, finished 4.26sec behind Cancellara, the time-trial gold medalist at the Beijing Olympics last August.
“It’s my first day of racing and my first victory. It’s really good,” said Cancellara, who is making his 2009 season debut.
Some 100,000 spectators lined the streets of the California capital, most hoping for a glimpse of Armstrong, racing for the first time in the United States since the Tour of Georgia in 2005.
“I wanted to be top 10, top 15, so I have to be pretty happy,” said Armstrong, who called the crowds “amazing.”
“They were a surprise in Australia, a big surprise today. People are excited, but I don’t think they’re as excited as I am. I’m glad to be here and I appreciate the support.
“I felt good,” added the 37-year-old, whose appearance in Australia marked his first race since his 2005 Tour de France triumph.
“It’s a new sensation because I haven’t trained for efforts like that. We changed the time-trial position a little bit, so that’s the first time I really got to go as hard as I could with the new position.”
Leipheimer said he was pleased with his position heading into Sunday’s stage one, which will take the riders 173.2 km from Davis to Santa Rosa.
The route features fast, flat sections separated by three climbs and ends with a circuit in downtown Santa Rosa.
“To be just 1.2 seconds behind, I’m very happy with that,” Leipheimer said. “It’s kind of the perfect situation.”
Leipheimer said he thought his early season form was good enough to earn a victory, if things go right.
“I feel great,” he said. “I think I do have the form to compete for the win. That’s not to say that I can win, because obviously the competition is very good and a lot can happen over the next eight days.”
“With eight days still to do, it’s a lot. For the first day of the year and a long stage race, we have to do good tactics.”
American Floyd Landis, making his return to racing after his suspension for a doping offense that cost him his 2006 Tour de France title, was unimpressive, finishing in 90th place, 21 seconds behind Cancellara.
Bicycle.net will have full coverage, photo’s podcast, and video up a little later tonight!