Bradley Wiggins said after his ride that the Tour de France prologue is, in the grand scheme of a three-week race, insignificant.
It was only 8.9 kilometres. There are more than 3,630 to go.
It is Sky’s job, as a cycling team and a media organisation, to put a positive spin on things - you would expect nothing else. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to put much gloss on his 77th place in Rotterdam. Even taking into account the weather, which was at its worst during Wiggins’ ride, it was a surprisingly lowly finish for someone who has excelled in this kind of event. He was almost 10 per cent slower than the winner, Fabian Cancellara.
Time is not something anyone wants to see slipping away in 30-second chunks. Think how difficult it is to regain half a minute in the mountains - it can take successive stages of struggle to eke that out.
After one day of racing, Wiggins is already 34 seconds behind Lance Armstrong. Last year he finished the Tour fourth overall, 37 seconds adrift of third-placed Armstrong.
Of the riders Wiggins is hoping to compete with for a place on the podium, he finished in front of only two - the Schleck brothers. One of the world’s best prologue riders was beaten by Carlos Sastre, barely noted at this discipline. And by Ivan Basso, who admitted he was feeling tired. And by Denis Menchov, who never looks the best in the wet.
There is no doubt Wiggins endured the worst of the rain and could not afford to take any risks on the corners. But the time lost yesterday could be significant.
DID SKY OVER-THINK THINGS?
One of Team Sky’s mantras is their pursuit of marginal gains. The detail is studied to work out how small improvements can be made. Several small improvements can add up to a significant one.
But in their search for an edge, were they being a bit too clever? Team Sky decided to put Wiggins off early. The day before the prologue, Dave Brailsford explained that the weather forecast predicted that the later starters might be affected by rain. It was a gambled that backfired.
Regardless of the forecast, it was a risk to separate Wiggins from the other overall favourites. If Team Sky had put him off in their final slot – which was given to Juan Antonio Flecha – he would have been riding in the same conditions as the men he is competing with for the general classification. Whether favourable or difficult, they’d have all faced the same challenge.
Sending Wiggins off early was a roll of the dice. And the dice came up with a one. Just as Wiggins headed to the start house the rain began to fall more heavily. By the time he was on the road, it was cold, rainy and blustery. The weather is an uncontrollable that refuses to be controlled, even by Dave Brailsford. But it was wet for everyone and it doesn’t explain all the lost time.
When Wiggins crossed the line, he was already outside the top 10, and was 46 seconds slower than HTC-Columbia’s Tony Martin, the long-time leader.
As the afternoon went on, the number got bigger and bigger and the final result sheet showed that Wiggins had finished 77th.
Wiggins said he was happy with the numbers he was hitting, that the way he was riding on the straight sections of the course showed he was where he needed to be. And yet he was only the sixth fastest Team Sky rider on the day.
The time Wiggins has conceded is not necessarily the most significant thing, it is the number of bodies in front of him already. Last year Wiggins began on the front foot and maintained his position. This time he has to get himself in front of a lot of riders. Some will fall by the wayside, of course, but the Tour de France is all about momentum and Wiggins has got off to a juddering start.
WIGGINS’S TOUR DE FRANCE PROLOGUES
2006 Strasbourg (7.1km)
16th - 13 seconds behind Thor Hushovd
2007 London (7.9km)
4th - 23 seconds behind Cancellara
2009 Monaco (15.5km - this was technically not a prologue)
3rd - 19 seconds behind Cancellara
2010 Rotterdam (8.9km)
77th - 56 seconds behind Cancellara
Tour de France 2010: Latest news
Armstrong under fire as Landis allegations reach mainstream
Team Sky’s decision to put Wiggins off early back fires
Millar and Thomas hold their nerve in Rotterdam rain
Armstrong defiant in wake of latest revelations
Thomas looks to prologue and sporting new stripes|
Florencio kicked out of Cervelo team on eve of Tour
Tour teams presented in Rotterdam: What the riders said
Andy Schleck faces rough ride over Tour cobbles
Riis: Tour is the goal for Schlecks despite sponsor problems
Armstrong on Arenberg: There will be carnage
Cavendish set for green jersey battle at the Tour
Hunt and Lloyd look forward to making their Tour debuts
Tour de France 2010: Stage reports
Prologue: Cancellara pips Martin to win
Tour de France 2010: Photos
Prologue photo gallery
Tour de France 2010: Race guide
Tour de France 2010: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index
Official start list, with race numbers
Brits at the Tour 2010
Tout team guide
Tour jerseys: What they are and what they mean
Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Wiggins