Norwayâ€™s Thor Hushovd beat changing weather conditions to win the 4.6-kms prologue of Paris-Nice in which the main factor was rain, or the lack of it. In five minutes and 28 seconds, the Credit Agricole leader, the 2006 Tour de France prologue winner, beat unheralded Basque Markel Irizar by four seconds.
Itizar was lucky to start on a dry road, in 13th position. Third place went to Germanyâ€™s Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner), was was starting last, when the road had dried up again.
160 riders at the start
Start given at 12 :10
Weather: cloudy and windy at first, rainy afterwards.
IRIZAR THE PACESETTER
Franceâ€™s Thierry Hupond was the first to start under a grey, cloudy sky, at 12:10 Spainâ€™s Markel Irizar (Euskaltel) was the early pacesetter, clocking the first serious reference time in five minutes and 32 seconds.
A slight drizzle started to fall as Jens Voigt, the prologue winner in 2005, completed his course in 5:39. Witt wind and rain now on the menu, favourites struggled to match the early starters. Luxembourgâ€™s Frank Schleck (Team CSC) had to be content with a time of 6:02, half a minute off the pace.
American Tyler Farrar (TSL) crashed on the slippery tarmac and finished in 8:41 with a torn jersey covered in blood.
Franceâ€™s David MoncoutiĂ©, who was fourth on Pairs-Nice on 2001, was almost a minute adrift on 6:26, taking no risks after his bad crash in similar conditions on the last Tour de Romandie.
HUSHOVD ON DRYER ROADS
The course dried gradually towards the finish but not enough for some of the main contenders to be able to match Irizarâ€™s time.
Favourite David Millar, winner last year in Issy-les-Moulineaux, was seven seconds behind Irizar, Bobby Julich, crowned in the 2006 prologue, lost 12 seconds while Roman Kreuziger, second behind Millar a year ago, finished eight seconds adrift. Another favorurite, Australiaâ€™s Cadel Evans, was a lowly 36th, 17 seconds off the pace.
Uktraineâ€™s Andriy Grivko (MRM), limited the damage in 5:36. and was eventually the best-placed under-25 rider, eventually taking 8th spot.
Among the other disappointments were Franceâ€™s Sylvain Chavanel, who clocked 5:45, and French road champion Christophe Moreau, who relinquished 25 seconds.
Hushovd finally set the record straight in 5:28, avoiding a major sensation, Irizar having never come close to winning a pro race, while Schumacher and Australiaâ€™s Bradley McGee were tied on 5:33, the German making it on the podium for a few hundredths of a second.
Franceâ€™s William Bonnet, a team-mate of Hoshovd’s, took advantage of the circumstances to take a promising 5th place in 5:34.
Winner of a Tour Mediterranean stage and third in the Het Volk, Hushovd admitted he had an ideal start to the season :
It was a tough prologue today?
Â« It was very windy, especially in the last two kilometres, wit a lot of headwind. I managed my race well with the help of William Bonnet, who had a good ride, finishing 5th and was by my side all the time.
Tommorow will be a stage for sprinters, it should suit you?
Tomorrow is a flat stage, but the very last bit is steep, it will take a strong rider to win. Iâ€™m doing well at the moment and I will try to keep my jersey.
I already had a victory this season but to win the Paris-Nice prologue is an ideal way to start the season. Â»
4. Mc Gee
The live coverage of the Paris Nice prologue was interrupted by technical problems. Please accept our apologies.
Cofidis team director Francis Van Londersele told www.letour.fr David Mouncoutie had been scared by the weather conditions, hence his poor performance in the prologue: Â« David is very ill at ease in such conditions. The road is not swept by the rain but made greasy and slippery with the dust and mud. In such conditions a rider like David is very tense and jittery. His crash on the Tour de Romandie was a trauma he is struggling to put behind him. Â»
Australia’s Cadel Evans told French daily Aujourd’hui about his ambitions in this Paris-Nice: Â« Paris-Nice is a race I adore. But it comes so early in the season that I try not to focus too much on it. Right now, Iâ€™m about 75 percent of my potential. Iâ€™m here above alll to prepare for further goals and I see myself, hopefully, more as a good team-mate for Yaroslav Popovych. Â»
France’s David Moncoutie lost 54 seconds on Markel Irizar. Injured in a bad crah in similar weather conditions in last year’s Tour de Romandie, the Cofidis rider obviously took no risks.