Friends: The Tour proves once again it is bigger than any rider or scandal, as today's four-and-a-half mile route was thick with enthusiastic fans. Everyone I encountered was thrilled to be there and were all looking forward to the next three weeks with great anticipation, even though the two favorites, Ullrich and Basso, are out along with three other team leaders who were all a threat for the podium. New heroes will be made and this makes it more wide open than ever, with no longer all the focus on the anticipated Basso-Ullrich battle for first and second and only third place in doubt.
My friend Yvon and his wife Francoise drove over from Mulhouse 50 miles away to join me. They brought along a friend and his wife. For three-and-a-half hours we watched the 176 of the original 189 riders whiz past us at 30 miles per hour at one minute intervals with nary a complaint about the diminished field or heckles from the crowds. Exuberant Yvon maintained a chatter with everyone around us. They were all French except for myself and a retired Dutch fellow smoking a cigar who hadn't missed a Prologue since 1995. There was only initial comment about the tragedy of losing all the favorites, but then all attention was focused on the talent at hand. With an hour left in the time trial we moved to the big screen. We were lucky to find a spot with a vantage of it. It was jammed. I spotted the first Americans I had seen since I arrived in Strasbourg three days ago. Only then did we know who had had the best times, though it didn't matter too much, since the best riders were yet to ride. George Hincapie, the last rider to leave the starting gate, missed by less than a second of beating the best time of 8 minutes and 21 seconds and earning the yellow jersey.
I arrived at the course by nine before it was closed to the public and was able to give it a ride myself. I was passed by the Brit Robert Millar, a former Prologue winner, giving it an early look.
This year's caravan of sponsors is up to 51, ten more than last year, further indication of the sport's popularity and good health. At least two of the sponsors were tossing wrist bands--the London travel bureau, as London will be hosting the Prologue next year was giving out black ones, and Euskatel, a Spanish sponsor was tossing out orange bands..