LIEGE, Belgium -- Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland gave some joy to his troubled RadioShack Nissan team as the 99th Tour de France began Saturday, winning his fifth opening-day prologue at cycling's premier race in the same Belgian city where he edged Lance Armstrong eight years ago.
Cancellara, 31, proved he's positively dominant in time trials over the 4-mile race against the clock in Liege. This time, Cancellara outclassed another Tour title favorite: Bradley Wiggins, aiming to become the first Briton to win the Tour, was 7 seconds behind in second.
Australia's Cadel Evans embarked on his title defense in solid form, finishing 13th -- but importantly, 10 seconds back of Wiggins, who many see as the main threat to Evans' hopes of a repeat. Cancellara is unquestionably the world's best time-trial rider, but isn't considered a Tour contender because he often struggles in the mountains.
"What a great opening -- again!" Cancellara said. "I did the most I could. It's not always easy. I always do the maximum ... It's a great feeling and this certainly takes some of the pressure off."
The Tour start offered a welcome return to racing -- three weeks and 2,168 miles criss-crossing France, nosing into Switzerland, and scaling climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees before the July 22 finish on Paris' Champs-Elysees. Two other individual time-trials await.
RadioShack, built on the remains of teams that Armstrong led to a record seven Tour victories, has faced a rough patch.
Its current leader, Andy Schleck, is staying home to nurse a spinal injury he sustained in a crash in the Criterium du Dauphine this month; team manager Johan Bruyneel -- Armstrong's longtime mentor -- is staying away to avoid being a distraction to the team and the race over a U.S. anti-doping case targeting him, Armstrong and four others.
In a further embarrassment, Enrico Carpani, a spokesman for cycling governing body UCI, said it received information from several RadioShack riders that they had faced delays in receiving some salary payments. Team spokesman Philippe Maertens said he believed they had been paid, "and if not, there is a reason for it." He called it a "private issue."
First Published July 1, 2012 12:00 AM