The cobblestones of Paris were a burden for Lance Armstrong. The mountains ahead may prove more to his liking.
Against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower, Armstrong began his bid for a record-tying fifth straight Tour de France victory by finishing seventh in Saturday's prologue time trial. The Texan was seven seconds behind winner Bradley McGee (7:26.16) in the 4.03-mile individual race against the clock.
"I didn't feel great," Armstrong said. "I started slow. It wasn't very comfortable, and I was struggling with the pounding of the cobblestones. But the race will change."
Armstrong, who came back from cancer to win the first of his Tour victories in 1999, is trying to become the second to capture five consecutive Tours.
McGee, an Olympic bronze medalist from Australia, finished the last few hundred yards with a tire puncture and was a fraction of a second faster than Britain's David Millar.
"It's like being in another world. It feels great," said McGee, wearing the yellow jersey awarded to the overall leader. "The dream of dreams is to hold on to the jersey as long as possible."
Jan Ullrich, 1997 Tour winner and a challenger to Armstrong, was fourth. He is regaining his form after missing more than a year because of injuries and a drug ban. Another rival, American rider Tyler Hamilton, finished sixth. Hamilton is a former teammate of Armstrong's who rides for the Danish CSC team.
The 23-day, 2,125-mile trek around France has 20 stages left, including grueling mountain climbs where Armstrong has excelled in the past.
Today, the relatively flat 104-mile first leg starts from an inn, Le Reveil Matin, where the first Tour began in 1903.
Armstrong coach Chris Carmichael said the goal the first week is for his star rider to stay with his U.S. Postal Service teammates near the front of the 198-man field, reducing the chance of getting caught in a crash while conserving energy for later stages.
100th Tour de France
SATURDAY: Prologue, 4.03 miles, from Eiffel Tower, through streets of Paris to foot of the Champ de Mars, a park in Tower's shadow. Riders raced individually against the clock.
WINNER: Bradley McGee of Australia, 7 minutes, 26.16 seconds.
ARMSTRONG WATCH: Seventh, seven seconds off McGee's pace.
TODAY: Stage 1, 104 miles from Paris east to the town of Meaux.
TV: 9 a.m., Outdoor Life Network.