Liege, Belgium - Fabian Cancellara went full circle on Saturday when he won the Tour de France prologue in Liege on the same circuit as his first major victory in the same race in 2004.

The Swiss, dubbed Spartacus for his build and strength, was seven seconds quicker than pre-Tour favourite Bradley Wiggins, clocking seven minutes and 13 seconds over the 6.4-km course.

French time trial champion Sylvain Chavanel was third in the same time as Wiggins.

It was Cancellara's fifth victory in the Tour opener and also the fifth abroad as the four-times time trial world champion previously took the first yellow jersey of the race in Liege, London, Monaco and Rotterdam.

“”It's phenomenal to win eight years later. So much happened since 2004,” said Cancellara, who plans to defend his Olympic time trial title in London next month.

“”I'm very proud to win after what happened to me this season,” added the Swiss, who fractured a collarbone in the Tour of Flanders in April.

Wiggins, widely seen as the man to beat in the Tour this year, was only 11th at the halfway stage, six seconds off the pace, but the Briton finished strongly to salvage a podium spot.

Other favourites were far more disappointing.

Time trial world champion Tony Martin of Germany suffered a puncture but still managed to finish 44th, 23 seconds behind Cancellara.

Slovakia's Peter Sagan, seen as an outside bet since his victory in the Tour of Switzerland prologue, narrowly avoided a crash when his shoe skidded off the pedals to finish 52nd.

Defending champion Cadel Evans of Australia finished a good 13th, 17 seconds behind Cancellara and 10 behind Wiggins. – Reuters