PARIS - The urban course called for tight cornering and a fully-revved engine throughout: a track cyclist's skills, applied to cobblestones and asphalt. And so it was that on the 100th anniversary of the world's most famous road cycling race, a converted track rider carried off the first bouquet.
Australian Bradley McGee powered through the four-mile Tour de France prologue time trial yesterday in 7 minutes, 26.16 seconds, just 0.08 of a second ahead of his friend David Millar of Great Britain. Both prevailed over technical problems. Millar's chain came off at one point, and McGee blew a tire in the final yards.
McGee, 27, is a former track world champion and triple Olympic bronze medalist in the pursuit event, where riders start at equidistant points on the track and try to catch one another.
"I calculated that it was winnable," McGee said of his second career Tour stage victory in the three years since he took up the new discipline.
"You have to ride the bike like it's another arm or a leg."
He said his fdjeux.com team will fight to retain the lead - "We're a French team in the Tour" - and added he hoped his win would boost the team in Wednesday's team time trial, the next key stage for the overall standings.
Defending champion Lance Armstrong finished seventh, seven seconds behind. Jan Ullrich of Germany made a strong opening statement with a fourth-place finish, two seconds off the pace. Several other contenders were bunched in the top 10, including Tyler Hamilton, Joseba Beloki and Santiago Botero.
The riders rolled off the start ramp on the Pont d'Iena in front of the Eiffel Tower on a cool, overcast day. Fans lined the heavily policed race route, but Paris is big enough to absorb the event and life went on undisturbed a short distance away.
Families picnicked and played soccer in the open areas of the Champ de Mars park under the Eiffel Tower. Tourists took elevators up the tower's diagonal legs and oblivious couples necked along the banks of the Seine.
Armstrong reversed an earlier decision and began the day in the overall leader's yellow jersey, which is emblazoned with the initials of Tour founder Henri Desgrange in honor of the Tour's centennial. This is the 90th running of the race, which was suspended during the two world wars.
The previous year's winner can opt to wear the jersey, and many have. The Texan had said he would start in his U.S. Postal Service colors, but complied with a personal request by history-conscious race director Jean-Marie Leblanc.
Armstrong also lost the 2001 prologue wearing yellow, but was more inclined to blame his own last-minute preparations than superstition.
"It's my fault for not coming into Paris to ride the course yesterday, but that was my decision," he said.
"I'm a little disappointed. I went as hard as I could but I didn't ride as well as I expected."
Bonnie DeSimone is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
(4.03-mile individual time trail in Paris) 1. Bradley McGee, Australia, fdjeux.com, 7 minutes, 26 seconds.
2. David Millar, Britain, Cofidis-La Credit Par Telephone, less than 1 second behind.
3. Haimar Zubeldia, Spain, Euskaltel-Euskadi, 2 seconds behind.
4. Jan Ullrich, Germany, Bianchi, same time.
5. Victor Hugo Pena, Columbia, U.S. Postal Service, 6.
6. Tyler Hamilton, United States, Team CSC, same time.
7. Lance Armstrong, United States, U.S. Postal Service, 7.
8. Joseba Beloki, Spain, Once-Eroski, 9.
9. Santiago Botero, Columbia, Team Telekom, same time.
10. Vjatceslav Ekimov, Russia, U.S. Postal Service, 11.
11. Michael Rich, Germany, Gerolsteiner, same time.
12. Levi Leipheimer, United States, Rabobank, same time.
13. George Hincapie, United States, U.S. Postal Service, same time.
14. Vladimir Karpets, Russia, ibanesto.com, 12.
15. Mikel Astarloza, Spain, AG2R Prevoyance, same time. Others 18. Thor Hushovd, Norway, Credit Agricole, 13.
21. Gilberto Simoni, Italy, Saeco-Macchine Per Caffe, same time.
70. Fred Rodriguez, United States, Caldirola-So.Di, 25.
86. Jose Luis Rubiera, Spain, U.S. Postal Service, 29.
101. Robbie Mc Ewen, Australia, Lotto-Domo, 32.
108. Roberto Heras, Spain, U.S. Postal Service, 33.
110. Pavel Padrnos, Czech Republic, U.S. Postal Service, same time.
112. Erik Zabel, Germany, Team Telekom, 34.
116. Floyd Landis, United States, U.S. Postal Service, same time.
123. Richard Virenque, France, Quick Step-Davitamon, 35.
175. Manuel Beltran, Spain, U.S. Postal Service, 45.