McGee upsets favorites to take Tour prologuePosted: Saturday July 05, 2003 1:35 PM
Updated: Saturday July 05, 2003 6:51 PM
PARIS (AP) -- For Lance Armstrong, the cobblestones of Paris proved a burden. For Bradley McGee they were a boon.
Armstrong finished seventh Saturday in the first event of the Tour de France, a 6.5-kilometer (4.03-mile) individual race against the clock through the French capital's tree-lined boulevards past thousands of cheering fans. (Results)
It wasn't the ideal start to the 31-year-old Texan's bid to become only the second man to win five consecutive Tours.
But Armstrong, who came back from cancer to win the first of his four Tour victories in 1999, still has thousands of miles (kilometers) left in the punishing three-week race in which to stamp his authority.
"I didn't feel great. I started slow. It wasn't very comfortable, and I was struggling with the pounding of the cobblestones," Armstrong said. "But the race will change."
He then got in a car as a half-dozen riot police surrounded him to hold back a crowd of spectators.
McGee, a 27-year-old Olympic bronze medalist from Australia, finished the last few hundred meters (yards) with a puncture and was just a fraction of a second faster than runner-up David Millar of Britain.
Spain's Haimar Zubeldia started 93rd of the 198 riders but held on for third, two seconds off McGee's pace. Armstrong, who raced last because he is the defending champion, was 7 seconds off McGee.
"It's like being in another world. It feels great," said McGee, wearing the coveted yellow jersey awarded to the overall Tour leader. "The dream of dreams is to hold on to the jersey as long as possible."
The 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich was fourth, also two seconds back, marking his return to form after more than a year out with injuries and a drug ban. Ullrich is considered a threat to Armstrong on this Tour.
Another potential rival, American rider Tyler Hamilton, finished sixth, one spot and one second ahead of Armstrong. Hamilton is a former teammate of Armstrong's who now rides for the Danish CSC team. Other challengers, Spain's Joseba Beloki and Giro d'Italia winner Gilberto Simoni, were eighth and 21st, respectively.
Armstrong won last year's prologue on his way to his fourth Tour victory. His coach, Chris Carmichael, had said before Saturday's race that the Texan aimed to win again.
But the 23-day, 3,427.5-kilometer (2,125-mile) clockwise slog around France has 20 stages left to go, including punishing mountain climbs where Armstrong has previously left rivals in his wake.
It was the first time in 40 years that the Tour has kicked off from Paris. The overall winner in 1963 was Frenchman Jacques Anquetil, the first rider to win five Tours. If he wins, Armstrong will join Spanish great Miguel Indurain as the only rider to take five Tours in a row.
Saturday's route started against the majestic backdrop of the Eiffel Tower, crossed the Seine, wound its way up a hill to the Place du Trocadero and then snaked through crowd-lined streets.
The riders zipped past Place de la Concorde, where King Louis XVI was guillotined in 1793 during the French Revolution, before crossing back over the Seine, past the parliament building, and finishing up at the foot of the Champ de Mars, a park in the Eiffel Tower's shadow. The riders' wheels rattled and jumped on the cobblestones.
McGee completed the course in 7 minutes, 26.16 seconds. Millar finished in 7:26.24 and may well have won had his chain not jumped out of gear in the second to last straight.
"This is incredible," McGee said. "For the Tour de France, you have to control your nerves. I am very, very anxious. All day my heart was here," he said, pointing to his head.
On Sunday, the riders embark on the first real stage of the Tour, a trek from Paris east to the town of Meaux.
The race starts from the same spot, an inn called Le Reveil Matin, where the first Tour kicked off in 1903. The relatively flat 168-kilometer (104-mile) course does not present any significant difficulties.
Armstrong's goal during the first week is to stay with his U.S. Postal Service teammates near the front of the 198-man field to reduce the chances of getting caught in a crash, while conserving energy for crucial later stages, his coach Carmichael said.