Britain?s David Millar has failed to repeat last year?s prologue win of Paris-Nice. Instead, the opening victory went to Credit Agricole?s Thor Hushovd.

Millar finished a below-expectations 12th on the flat, exposed 4.2 kilometre course in the tiny town of Amilly, 11 seconds behind the Norwegian. For such a short distance, this was a comparatively large margin for Millar to lose the prologue.

The Scot took his fair share of risks on the untechnical course, much of it running through open countryside, despite intermittent rain making the road surface risky. Millar has said repeatedly that Paris-Nice is his first big objective of 2008 and a prologue victory would have been the ideal start.

But despite shaving the corners on the wet roads and taking the last kilometre out of the saddle Millar was unable to get past the seemingly unbeatable provisional best set very early on by unknown Basque rider Markel Irizar (Euskaltel-Euskadi). He did not even manage to be first rider home for the Slipstream squad. Both American Danny Pate, finally sixth at 6 seconds, and Aussie climber Trent Lowe, 10th, proved to be faster.

Third last man off, Hushovd, on the other hand, had no problems clinching his most important time trial win since the Tour prologue in Strasbourg 2006. Not even the near-galeforce headwinds that blasted the last kilometre of the race on Sunday could put off the burly Norwegian.

“I knew I was going well after Het Volk last Sunday.” Hushovd told Cycling Weekly. “The last kilometre was very tough but I came here to win.”

Ironically enough, Hushovd was due to race Tirreno, not Paris-Nice. But organisers RCS decided Credit Agricole were not allowed to take part and so Hushovd opted for Paris-Nice instead.

“I want to build up my condition for Milan-San Remo.” Hushovd added. “That’s why I’m here. And as soon as I went down the start ramp, I knew I was on a good day.”

Asked about the UCI-ASO argument and the threat the UCI has made of sanctioning riders, he said.”Of course, it’s been worrying for the last couple of weeks. I just hope it gets resolved quickly.”

Far better known as a sprinter, Hushovd won the green jersey overall in the Tour in 2004. But he has also been Norwegian time trial national champion as well as winning the Tour of L?Ain and the Tour of Normandie as a young pro.


Sunday?s ride reminded the world that Hushovd is far more than ?just? a world-class sprinter. The only rider to average over 50 kmh, the giant Norwegian romped home four seconds faster than Irizar. Third was German speedster Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) five seconds back.

After taking a stage of the Tour of the Med. the Paris-Nice prologue was Hushovd?s second win of the year. It looks more than likely the 30-year-old will be able to defend the leader?s jersey on Monday?s flat opening road stage as well.

Can Millar bounce back after this stinging defeat? His next chance will come in the hilly stages from Tuesday onwards. But this was most definitely not the start to Paris-Nice that he had wanted..

PARIS-NICE PROLOGUE RESULTS

1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole 4.6km in 5-28
2 Markel Irizar (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 4sec
3 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner at 5sec
4 Bradley McGee (Aus) CSC at st
5 William Bonnet (Fra) Credit Agricole at 6sec
6 Danny Pate (USA) Slipstream at st
7 Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita) Liquigas at 7sec
8 Andrij Grivko (Ukr) Milram at 8sec
9 Karsten Kroon (Hol) CSC at st
10 Trent Lowe (Aus) Slipstream at 9 sec
British
12 David Millar (GB) Slipstream at 11sec

Britain’s David Millar started solidly, if a little under expectation, with a 12th place in the prologue

Thor Hushovd took the opening prologue with a convincing margin

Thor Hushovd gets to wear the first Paris-Nice leader’s jersey of 2008. Photos: Luc Claessen/ISPA

MONDAY?S STAGE

If you?re a fan of bunch sprints, make sure you watch tomorrow?s 184.5 kilometre trek from Amilly to Nevers. It?s almost certain to be the only one on offer this year.

Just one third category climb nearly 80 kilometres from the line makes itmore than unlikely that a break will stay away – although if past history is anything to go by you can count on an Agritubel rider to try.

Race leader Thor Hushovd should therefore have no problems defending his lead for at least another 24 hours. Barring Gert Steegmans (Quick Step) and Andrei Greipel (High Road), the Credit Agricole sprinter is virtually the only top fastman present.

Bonuses of ten, six and four seconds are available at the end of each stage. The stage finish is expected between 1616 and 1639 local time – although the opening road stage of Paris-Nice almost always finishes late.

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