LONDON -- On a day when the Tour de France made a rare start in Britain and riders sped past Parliament and Buckingham Palace, the shadow of drugs remained inescapable in cycling.
Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara won the prologue yesterday as the sport's premier event began amid heavy security and with a distinct British accent.
Cancellara, the world time-trial champion who also won the Tour prologue in 2004, completed the 4.9-mile race through downtown London in 8 minutes 50 seconds. He is strictly a time-trial rider and is not expected to compete for the title in the three-week race.
"I am really happy, that's for sure," said Cancellara, who will wear the leader's yellow jersey for today's first stage from London to Canterbury. "I will do the maximum to defend it."
Andreas Kloeden of Germany was 13 seconds behind. George Hincapie of the United States was next, 23 seconds off the pace. Britain's Bradley Wiggins, looking to bring the home fans a victory, was fourth among the 189 riders in the race against the clock.
The prologue took place two years to the day after suicide bombers killed 52 people on London's public transit network and as the country confronts a new wave of terrorism.
Cancellara's victory clearly brightened the mood of his team. Bjarne Riis, the manager of Team CSC, said he would stay home this year. In May, he jolted cycling by admitting he used the banned performance enhancer EPO on his way to winning the 1996 Tour.
"What's really hard is when we saw that he's not with us on the Tour, but everybody's holding up," Cancellara said. "Today was a very important day for the team.
"There are a lot of problems in cycling, but I want to look to the future," Cancellara added. "And if you keep looking back at the past, of course, it's hard."
Cycling has been battered by doping scandals, accusations, and admissions the past year. And that's saying a lot for a sport linked to widespread use of banned drugs for decades.
Riis is not alone in sitting out this year. Others excluded or not attending this Tour are sprint ace Alessandro Petacchi, Team Milram boss Gianluigi Stanga, Astana riders Matthias Kessler and Eddy Mazzoleni, and Tinkoff riders Joerg Jaksche and American Tyler Hamilton.
Tour officials required all riders to sign an anti-doping commitment. As a stage winner, Cancellara was automatically tested for doping.
While the Tour has twice come to Britain, the London debut was a first. The last time the Tour went through Britain was in 1994, when an estimated 2 million people crowded the route.
"For five, six, eight minutes, all I could hear was 'David! David! David!' " said Britain's David Millar, who finished 13th. "It was magnificent."