Tour de France 2012: The past of the prologue

In just a few hours time (1pm UK time, 2pm local) Tom Veelers from Team Argos-Shimano will get his moment of glory as the first rider to set off in the prologue of the 2012 Tour De France. After him, riders will go off every minute until Cadel Evans is the final man to depart the starting gate at 4.17pm (UK time).

It’s a relatively simple course for the prologue – just 6km long, with no real climbs or drops and only a couple of hairpin turns to add some technical difficulty:

So, while this is a course of which the time-trial specialists (Tony Martin, Fabian Cancellara and Bradley Wiggins) should do well on, it’s also one that will favour the power merchants. If it wasn’t for the fact that the Olympics were coming up so soon, there’d be a lot more contenders for the win today. A short flat course like this is meat and drink to riders who’ve been training for the 4km pursuit race on the track, which is why Chris Boardman was so dominant in the prologue in the mid-90s. However, riders like Geraint Thomas (who won the Tour of Romandy prologue) and Luke Durbridge (who won in the Dauphiné) are now far too focused on London to be able to take time out for the Tour. However, one power rider who is there today is Peter Sagan, who shocked everyone by edging out Cancellara in the Tour de Suisse prologue. He’s my tip for the day, though there are plenty of other power riders in the field who could pull off a surprise victory.

Of course, the prologue is like much of the opening week of the Tour as something to whet the appetite for what’s to come. We’re still in the period where you can only lose the race through a stupid mistake rather than win it through an act of brilliance. Famously, in 1989, defending champion Pedro Delgado missed his start time and ended up losing almost three minutes to his main rivals, leaving him out of the battle in what became a classic tour duel between Laurent Fignon and Greg Lemond. Nowadays, riders and teams are mostly too well organised to allow something like to happen, and the prologue’s merely a chance for a bit of preliminary shadow boxing, ensuring everyone gets a neatly separate time for the classification.

Live coverage starts from 1.15pm on Eurosport and 2pm on ITV4. The big names won’t be setting off until after 3pm. The starting order cycles through one rider from each team, in whatever order the team choose to send them off so we first see a rider from Argos-Shimano, then Orica-GreenEdge all the way through to BMC Racing, before repeating the order again. Cycling News have the full start list here. Most of the favourites go off towards the end, but some important early benchmark times will be set around 2pm UK time by riders like Garmin’s David Millar and Sky’d Edvald Boasson Hagen.

And just to get you in the mood, here’s the prologue from 1989, complete with original Channel 4 music and Richard Keys in the studio.