Tour de France prologue as it happened

Fabian Cancellara wins the prologue to the 2012 race in Liege ahead of Britain's Bradley Wiggins.

1 July 2012 Last updated at 10:28

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As it happened

  1. 1653:  

    Thanks for all your texts and tweets today. The race departs Liege but stays in Belgium for Sunday's stage one. Home favourite Philippe Gilbert will be lining up the 2.5km ascent to the finish. Will he delight the home fans? Join me to find out.

  2. 1650:  

    And with that, it's time for me to bring the curtain down on what has been a tremendous opening day on the 99th Tour de France. The "kid from Kilburn" did everything right, while Spartacus proved why he was billed as the pre-prologue favourite.

  3. 1647:  

    Here's race leader Fabian Cancellara on his win: "Every victory is important but today was special after a hard comeback (Cancellara broke his collarbone in a crash during the Tour of Flanders in April). I've done what I had to do today. I was motivated and it's a victory I won't forget for a long time."

  4. 1642:  

    Strong riders from other British riders today too don't forget. Sky's Chris Froome finished 11th, BMC's Steve Cummings 14th, Garmin's David Millar 15th and Sky's Mark Cavendish 42nd. Cav was just 23 seconds down on Cancellara.

  5. 1634:  

    Danny Cunningham on Twitter: "Wow, smashed by @f_cancellara! Unbelievable!"

  6. 1632:  

    1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Radioshack Nissan Trek - 6.4km in 7'13.470 (53.2km/h)

    2. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky at 7"

    3. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Phara Quickstep at 7"

    4. Teejay van Garderen (US) BMC Raing at 10"

    5. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Sky at 11"

  7. 1631:  

    What more to say about Cancellara? A fifth prologue win means he becomes just the second rider to wear the race leaders' yellow jersey on the opening day for a fifth time - equalling the legendary Bernard Hinault.

  8. 1629:  

    A great day for Wiggo then. That could not have gone any more smoothly for the Team Sky rider. He may not have won, but he holds a 10-second lead over his main rival Evans.

  9. 1626:  
    Good news for a Brit

    Just one man left out on the road and here comes the defending champion Evans. He's not challenging Wiggins but just how much time is he going to lose? The clock ticks by to 7'30".

  10. 1624:  

    Everyone's favourite Thomas Voeckler arrives in 107th and right behind him is Cancellara, out of the saddle and oh my...he smashes Wiggins out of sight. That's a 7'13" by the Swiss ace and the prologue win.

  11. 1622:  

    Cancellara round the roundabout and he's fastest at the timecheck - one second quicker than Chavanel, who was the quickest at that part of the stage. Evans through the same point six seconds back, but one second quicker than Wiggins.

  12. 1620:  

    Here comes Hesjedal into the finish and he's already over Wiggins's time - the Canadian finishes 11 seconds back. Nibali, who is targeting the Tour this year, is a better climber than time triallist and he comes in 10 seconds adrift. Just five to finish now.

  13. 1617:  

    That was a stunning second half to the prologue from Wiggins. But here comes the prologue expert Fabian Cancellara. He won on a very similar course in Liege in 2004. And close behind, the final rider of the day Cadel Evans heads down the ramp. Don't go anywhere for the next seven-and-a-half minutes.

  14. 1615:  
    Good news for a Brit

    The big names keep coming now. Vincenzo Nibali of Italy next out. Wiggo back onto the cobbles and he's into the final kilometre. He's getting a decent cheer from the crowd as he comes into the closing stages and he's picked up some time on the way in. This is going to be close...he's done it. Wiggins goes into the lead. He finishes in 7'20" - fractions ahead of Chavanel.

  15. 1611:  

    Wiggo safely round the first roundabout that caused problems for Sagan. Timed checkpoint coming up as he goes alongside the river - he's 10th quickest, six seconds behind Chavanel. Back at the starting gate, 2012 Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal pushes off down the ramp.

  16. 1609:  

    Wiggins, wearing number 101 as Team Sky leader, with Wiggo written down the side of his skin-tight racing outfit is off and running and quickly into his rhythm. Onto the cobbles and through them. Chavanel leads on 7'20".

  17. 1607:  

    No time to dwell on that though. Here's Brad.

  18. 1606:  
    What a shocker!

    Problems for Martin. The time trial specialist in a spot of bother and banging his bike on the floor. Gear problems suggests BBC Radio 5 live commentator Graham Jones. Whatever the problem is Martin is not happy as a mechanic comes to his aid with a new bike. That's his challenge over. He finishes in 7'36", 16 seconds adrift of Chavanel. He was second fastest at halfway. The German will be gutted.

  19. 1603:  

    Sweat dripping off the face of Cadel Evans and he's only warming up. The defending champ goes out at 16:17 remember but he's making sure that he's ready. At the other end of the course, Frank Schleck stops the clock a little over 30 seconds behind Chavanel. American Tejay Van Garderen - the BMC rider - surprises many, finishing just two seconds down on Chavanel.

  20. 1600:  

    The jersey of the world time trial champion is on the road and that can mean only one thing - Germany's Tony Martin is away. Martin prefers slightly longer time trials but it will be interesting to see how close he runs Chavanel.

  21. 1556:  
    That's ugly!

    Much-fancied sprinter Peter Sagan overcooks it at a roundabout and does well to avoid hitting the deck but he will lose crucial seconds there. He's soon back up to speed though but just how costly has that slip been? He comes in 16.5 seconds behind Chavenel in 7'37".

  22. 1555:  

    Here goes Frank Schleck. The Luxembourger finished third overall last year. It's all about damage limitation for man who prefers the mountains. His brother Andy is missing this year with a pelvis injury.

  23. 1553:  

    Here comes Froome powering towards the line - he's not winning this but a 7'29" puts him in sixth and the best British performance of the day with just Wiggo to go. He's on the rollers preparing to go out at 16:07 - I make that 14 minutes.

  24. 1552:  

    BBC Sport's Matt Slater on Twitter: "Just had a word with Cav, he fancied this one & was a tad disappointed. He said wind was in different direction to when he practised it, hard going as a result."

  25. 1550:  

    Aaron Nathaniel on Twitter: "I have decided that @bradwiggins will win today. @f_cancellara is coming back from injury. Hopefully too short for Tony Martin."

    Josh Percy Woods on Twitter: "Expecting Tony Martin to come up with the goods a bit later." #bbccycling

  26. 1547:  
    Graham Jones , Radio 5 live sports extra co-commentator

    "Froome will definitely be looking after Wiggins. If he did ride for himself he could finish fifth or sixth but he has to sacrifice that to help Wiggins."

  27. 1545:  

    Chris Froome, the next Brit and Team Sky rider to head out, ascends the starting ramp. Froome was second in one of the two other Grand Tours, the Vuelta a Espana, last year, beating Wiggins into third. His main job this year is to help Wiggo through the mountains.

  28. 1541:  

    Here comes Big George and a tremendous ride by Hincapie over the line in 7'33" for 11th place. He was 39 on Friday and was presented with a special bike by his BMC Racing team - the team of defending champion Cadel Evans remember.

  29. 1538:  

    David Millar on Twitter: "More physical than technical course. Will be a good indicator of the GC riders form. Satisfied with how I went, no X in my factor though."

  30. 1533:  

    Live commentary is getting under way on BBC Radio 5 live. The team will bring you the closing stages of today's prologue.

  31. 1530:  

    Coming up in the next 10 minutes is one of the real stalwarts of the Tour. America's George Hincapie will be heading out on a record 17th campaign. Hincapie is a domestique without rival. He helped Lance Armstrong win all seven of his Tours, Alberto Contador win in 2007 and Cadel Evans last year. Chapeau George!

  32. 1527:  

    Spanish time trial champion Luis Leon Sanchez is coming across the line in 7'40" - he may well be better suited to the longer time trials to come later in the Tour.

  33. 1524:  

    R Mulholland, via text on 81111: "This year's Tour will be settled over 100 km of time trials and not in the mountains. Wiggins has a great chance but needs to send a clear message to Cadel et al that he is the one to beat."

    Tim, in children's hospital Birmingham, via text on 81111: "Update on Henry:- brilliant Dr Sarah much happier with his breathing can leave at 3.30, maybe home in time to see Brad take yellow! Do u think the poorly kids would mind me changing cbeebies over to action in Liege?"

  34. 1521:  

    Gilbert, spurred on by a partisan crowd, powers over the cobbles and he's into the final couple of hundred metres but the seconds are ticking by and he's not beating Chavanel. The clock stops at 7'26" and he's down in fourth. A reminder of the top three. Chavanel leads on 7'20" with Boasson Hagen four seconds back, just ahead of Lancaster. Millar is the best-placed Brit in fifth, with Cummings sixth.

  35. 1517:  

    Back to Gilbert and he's flying round Liege, sprinting out of the corners and he is just two seconds adrift of Chavanel at halfway. Rolland comes into the finish, mouth agape and he's 37 seconds adrift - there are better stages for him to come.

  36. 1515:  

    Phenomenal scenes on the streets of Liege as Gilbert powers off the ramp. We switch to France's Pierre Rolland. He won the white jersey as best young rider and also won a stage up Alpe d'Huez. Big things expected of the youngster this year.

  37. 1511:  

    Big cheers on the starting ramp as home favourite Philippe Gilbert gets ready for the off. The Belgian road race and time trial champion became just the second rider to win all three Ardennes Classics in the same year in 2011 - one of those is the Liege-Bastogne-Liege, so safe to say he knows the roads, although his big day may well be on Sunday.

  38. 1506:  

    British winner of three Tour de France prologues Chris Boardman on Twitter: "Expect a best time of around 7:10 (depending on wind)."

  39. 1501:  

    Chavanel using up every inch of the road as he picks the most direct route through the final kilometre curves and he jumps out of his saddle in the final few metres. Cracking effort that by the Frenchman who takes the lead. A time of 7'20" and a decent way to celebrate your 33rd birthday.

  40. 1458:  

    Jim Heath on Twitter: "Outsiders don't win prologues. I expect Mr Cancellara to come up with the goods. Wiggo doesn't need yellow yet."

    Steve McCombe on Twitter: "I reckon Wiggins 07:21 with Cancellara half a second either side and Evans 07:23." #bbccycling

  41. 1453:  

    French time trial champion Sylvain Chavanel, wearing his national colours, signs in on the starting ramp as the sun disappears. There is a slight chance of rain but hopefully it will stay dry.

  42. 1447:  
    Good news for a Brit

    Cavendish bouncing over the cobbles towards the end of his ride and he's back onto the safety of the tarmac as he goes under the 1km to go banner. Legs still pumping, rocking slightly from side-to-side as he passes several British flags on the run-in. He's not troubling team-mate Boasson Hagen's time but is home in a respectable 7'36" - 11 and a bit seconds down on the leader.

  43. 1443:  

    Here's Wiggins on his chances today: "I'll be going 100% and if I win then brilliant. You take anything that comes in the Tour. I have been good in prologues so far this year and if we have the yellow jersey [at the end of the day] then we'll see what we do after that. We won't be defending it for three weeks though."

  44. 1441:  

    And here's Cavendish on the ramp, signing in and shuffling towards the start gate. The winner of the 2011 green jersey is under way in 2012. He's quickly onto the aerobars and head down, legs pumping.

  45. 1438:  

    BBC Sport's Matt Slater on Twitter: "Here's Millar on Wiggins & GB cycling: "We're a minority but we're the best minority."

  46. 1436:  

    BBC Sport's Matt Slater has just spoken with David Millar who declared himself happy with his prologue. He also spoke about the situation surrounding seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. "We can't hide from the past but we're getting better," he told BBC Sport. "Cycling was a doping sport, it's now an anti-doping sport, there's been a paradigm shift."

  47. 1432:  

    Nick CK on Twitter: "If you want an outsider for today's prologue look out for Jimmy Engoulvent. Wiggo to put 5 seconds into Cadel today." #bbccycling

    Engoulvent out at 15:40, one rider after Cav. Sean Kelly has just nailed his colours to the mast and picked Wiggins to win the prologue.

  48. 1429:  

    Joel Fentem on Twitter: "Not much talk of Chris Froome for today or overall. He beat Wiggins in the TT and GC at the Veulta could be a surprise contender." #bbccycling

  49. 1427:   
    Team Sky

    Here comes Greipel, head rolling and the seconds tick by and he's down in 12th. Hot on his heels is Boasson Hagen and the Norwegian is looking close here. Boasson Hagen leads. The Team Sky rider with a monumental effort to finish on 7'24", the same time as Lancaster, but 0.67 seconds quicker.

  50. 1420:  

    From anonymous, via text on 81111: "Just started 5th hour at Birmingham Childrens Hospital A&E. Dear doctors, Henry is fine! Please let us home so he can see his 1st Tour! Vive La NHS Vive Le Tour!" Please remember to put your names on texts. Ta.

  51. 1417:  

    The curse of the commentator - apologies Grivko. Australia's Brett Lancaster of Green Edge has just blown your time out of the water. Lancaster round in 7'24". He will be Matt Goss's lead-out man in the sprints and apparently they've been working on a plan to nullify the threat of Cav...

  52. 1414:  

    Grivko continues to lead the way then. His time of 7'28" starting to look more than a little useful. Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen out in the next five minutes, one rider after sprinter Andre Greipel. Mark Cavendish out in about 25 minutes at 14:39.

  53. 1409:  
    Good news for a Brit

    Here comes Millar, head down, teeth gritted and he's not going to beat Grivko but his 7'31" is fractions inside Cummings and we have a British two and three on the leaderbord. Good effort from Millar considering his build-up this week.

  54. 1406:  

    David R tweets that I neglected to mention Johnny Hoogerland as the first big rider of note to set off earlier. Most of you will remember Hoogerland as the man who was catapulted into a barbed wire fence after a TV car collided with Team Sky's Juan Antonio Flecha in last year's Tour. He required 33 stitches to patch up his wounds and said: "We can be happy that we're alive." Apologies - Hoogerland not troubling the top 10 in the prologue.

  55. 1400:  

    David Millar the next down the ramp. The Brit, riding for Garmin, has not been well this week as his Tweets testify. On Wedensday he tweeted: "Quarantine! My food was slid through a gap in the door. I think they're burning the container after." He later said: "I was touch and go Wednesday with a multitude of unpleasant symptoms, fortunately by last night [Thursday] I was ok and no longer puking in my hand." Nice.

  56. 1355:  

    A quick nod to my colleagues at BBC Radio 5 live who will be providing live coverage of the closing stages of the prologue, and every stage of the Tour. They are on air from 15:30 BST today and there will be a link on this page. I'll give you another nudge a little closer to the time.

  57. 1353:  
    Good news for a Brit

    Cummings is second at the halfway stage, just one second behind Grinko as we watch a wide-mouthed Jens Voigt, gulping in the air, cross the line in second. Not bad by the 40-year-old, who is oldest man in the race. And here comes Cummings in the red and black of of BMC and he completes the course in 7'31" in an average of 51.0km/h exactly to push Voigt down to third.

  58. 1347:  

    Interestingly, race leader Grivko reckons he has left 15 seconds out on the course, as Farrar comes speeding across the line in 7'34". News of Cummings, who is out on the course, as and when I get it.

  59. 1344:  

    Student Cyclist on Twitter: "You can't win the tour in the first week but you can lose it. Bad prologue or a crash and you've already lost a minute."

    Matt Gray on Twitter: "The prologue may not mean a lot but decides who's in yellow for tomorrow, potentially a career making achievement."

    Guto Edwards on Twitter: "Those who say the prologue means nothing should realise what a day in the maillot jaune means to these riders." #bbccycling

  60. 1341:  

    Television pictures reveal a sunny Liege to start the Tour. That's great news for the riders after a couple of days of rain in Belgium. The route is lined with thousands of fans as American sprint specialist Tyler Farrar sets out. Sky's Christian Knees comes home in 7'34" and is third overall.

  61. 1337:  

    The length of the stage may not suit all the time triallists with Germany's Tony Martin suggesting "somewhere in the top five would be good for me". Grivko is still the quickest of the 37 riders to start so far.

  62. 1334:  

    The prologue route is not without its hazards. There are two hairpin corners and a short cobbled section to negotiate. Here's what Fabian Cancellara has to say about his hopes today: "I have to give everything and see if I have enough to get in yellow. If we go quickly today it will be great."

  63. 1331:  

    A little over 10 minutes to go until the first British rider heads out. Stephen Cummings won Olympic silver alongside Bradley Wiggins in the Athens velodrome at the 2004 Games and was part of the Team Sky set-up that made its Tour debut in 2010. This year he is with BMC Racing, supporting defending champ Cadel Evans.

  64. 1325:  

    Team Sky's Bernard Eisel on Twitter, one hour before starting: "It's my ninth tour, but I'm still nervous as back in 2004! Vive le Tour!" Nervy Bernie is safely back after completing the 6.4km route in 7'45".

  65. 1321:  

    Ukranian national road race and time trial champion Andriy Grivko is currently quickest round Liege in 7'28". As for the prologue meaning nothing...try telling Spartacus. Fabian Cancellara has won four of these, inluding the last one at the start of the 2010 race. His first was in 2004, in Liege. You give a rider a chance of wearing yellow at the Tour de France and he'll more often than not take it.

  66. 1315:  

    Tom on Twitter: "Backing Wiggins, but think Valverde is dark horse" ‪#bbccycling

    Keith on Twitter: "The prologue doesn't really mean anything though does it?" #bbccycling

  67. 1313:  

    And as I type that, Australia's national road race champion Simon Gerrans, riding for the new GreenEdge team, goes five seconds quicker. With riders departing every minute, expect these changes to come thick and fast. First big rider of note has just set off - Team Sky's Bernie Eisel - the man who will look after Mark Cavendish during the next three weeks.

  68. 1309:  

    Veelers sets the mark to beat - seven minutes, 47 seconds. Would imagine it's safe to say that won't be the quickest time of the day. This prologue is being ridden on as flat a course as possible by the way aand there's not too many twists and turns. While you're waiting for Cav, Wiggo et al to get going, take a look at our stage-by-stage guide to the rest of the Tour.

  69. 1302:  

    As Veelers gets the racing under way in Liege, here's some more from Wiggins: "In England, it's everyone's dream to play in the Cup final. This is my Wembley. I don't think I've ever been this good. All the stuff we've been doing this week suggests that I'm in the form of my life. I can't wait to get on the ramp and put this into practice."

  70. 1255:  

    There are five Brits in the race - Stephen Cummings, who sets off at 13:43, is the first home rider out - he is riding for Cadel Evans's BMC Racing team. Time trial specialist David Millar, who rides for Garmin, is out at 13:59. The first of the Team Sky trio Mark Cavendish heads off at 14:39, Chris Froome follows at 15:45 with Bradley Wiggins at 16:07. Evans, as last year's winner, is last out at 16:17.

  71. 1253:  

    We have a little over five minutes until the Dutchman Tom Veelers has the privilege of being the first rider down the ramp. The prologue is a sharp 6.4km ride round the Belgian city of Liege. The race starts at 13:00 BST and the 197 riders to follow will head out at one-minute intervals. Are you as excited as I am?

  72. 1251:  

    So, who you backing? Will Wiggins do it? An early Tweet from Matthew Wood is straight in with a prediction. Guess this gets the wheels turning: "Wiggins for yellow, Peter Sagan for green, Rein Taaramae for white and Johnny Hoogerland for polka dot. Book it." #bbccycling You can also get in touch via text on 81111. Please put Cycling at the front of your message and remember to add your name. Not all messages can be used, but I'll do my best.

  73. 1246:  

    Of course it's not all about Wiggins though. Australia's defending champion Cadel Evans has a strong team behind him and he too has designs on wearing yellow again. But a three-week bike tour is never going to be a two-man race, is it? Surely there's the likes of Vinccenzo Nibali, Frank Schleck and Ryder Hesjedal to consider?

  74. 1242:  

    Don't take my word for it. Ireland's Stephen Roche, the 1987 Tour winner, is backing Wiggins, while his Team Sky principal David Brailsford says Wiggins's confidence and belief has never been higher.

  75. 1239:  

    No British rider has ever won Le Tour. In fact, no British rider has even finished in the top three. All that could be about to change though with the people in the know tipping the "kid from Kilburn" Bradley Wiggins to make history. This is not hyperbole. Wiggins has a genuine chance to be wearing the coveted yellow jersey when the race enters Paris on Sunday, 22 July.

  76. 1234:  

    Hello and welcome to Le Grand Depart for the 99th staging of the Tour de France. Over the next three weeks, 198 riders will sprint and climb their way from Liege in Belgium to Paris, via the mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees. Come join me for what promises to be an enthralling race.

  77. 1230:  

    "Kids from Kilburn didn't become favourites for the Tour - you were either a postman, a milkman or worked in Ladbrokes."

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