Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins underlined his Tour de France claims by taking second place behind Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) in the prologue in Liege.
Wiggins, winner of Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine in a hugely impressive build-up to cycling's biggest event, was the 11th-last rider to head out on the 6.4 kilometres course.
His target time at that point was the seven minutes and 20 seconds set by Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) - but at the halfway stage he was six seconds adrift.
However a superb second phase saw the Briton cross the line 0.42 seconds in front to lay down a benchmark to the final 10 starters, including reigning champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing).
But it was former world time trial champion Cancellara who maintained his outstanding record of having never been beaten in a Tour de France prologue.
The Swiss star, who was coming back after a bad fracture of his collarbone at the Tour of Flanders, set a new fastest time at the intermediate check and he kept up the momentum to cross the line in 7:13.46, fully seven seconds in front of Wiggins and the rest, to claim the first leader's yellow jersey of the race.
It was the fourth time Cancellara has won a Tour prologue, following successes in 2004, 2007 and 2010, plus his time-trial win in Monaco in 2009.
Chavanel took third, while Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) was fourth and snared the young rider's jersey just ahead of Team Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen in fifth.
Also to the fore was Chris Froome in 11th (at +16s) - meaning Team Sky top the first team classification by four seconds.
Evans was 13th (+17s) but hard luck story of the day was world time trial champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) who was just a second slower than Cancellera at halfway before he suffered a rear wheel puncture and finished in 45th.
"I'm really happy, the legs felt good and I stayed calm and relaxed," said Wiggins afterwards.
"It's a good start and the main thing was to stay upright, safe and trouble-free. Physically I felt fantastic out there. It's everything we've been training for. It's good to get it out of the way."
Wiggins added: "I did say to the team last night there was one man who could beat me and that was always Fabian - he's the king of those things. He's the best in the world at that."
So far so good
After the stage we caught up with Sports Director Sean Yates who declared himself happy with day one of the Tour campaign.
He said: "In the grand scheme of things it was a good day and we cannot complain. Bradley set a great time on a course that doesn’t particularly suit him. We are in a great position.
"When Bradley opened it up it was plain to see that his condition is really good. It is just a question of staying out of trouble at the moment, starting tomorrow.
"It was great to see strong rides from Edvald and Froomey today and a strong start for the team across the board."
The first road stage proper on Sunday takes the riders 198km from Liege to Seraing, a suburb of the Belgian city, and concludes on a category four climb.