Bradley Wiggins' bid to become the first British winner of the Tour de France began with a second-placed finish as Fabian Cancellara won the opening prologue in Liege.

Wiggins is seen as the main rival to defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and clocked seven minutes 20.51 seconds on the 6.4-kilometre course.

Dan Martin was 55th fastest while Nicolas Roche was 56th, 24 and 25 seconds respectively off Cancellara’s time.

Swiss rider Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) was the penultimate rider to roll down the ramp and finished in 7mins 13secs to take the race lead on the opening day for the fifth time. Australian Evans, the final rider on the course, finished in 7:30, losing just under 10 seconds to Wiggins.

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.

But the Olympic time-trial champion is likely to possess the maillot jaune only on a temporary basis.

The distance and time gains are minute in the context of the 3,497km race to Paris on July 22, which continues tomorrow with the first road stage, the 198km stage one from Liege to Seraing, a suburb of the Belgian city, and concludes on a category four climb.

Wiggins (Team Sky) is looking to become the first Briton on the Tour podium in three weeks' time and demonstrated his supreme form by pushing Cancellara close and taking an advantage of more than nine seconds over Evans, who finished 13th.

The 32-year-old Londoner, who was born in Ghent, Belgium, was denied the chance to become the fifth Briton to don the yellow jersey, but will be happy with his display.

At the intermediate time check after 3.2km Wiggins, who was the 188th starter in a field of 198 riders, trailed by six seconds in 10th place.

But he overhauled provisional leader Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) of France in the second half of the route to claim a narrow lead.

The next 10 riders attempted to beat Wiggins' time and only Cancellara did.

Chavanel placed third, with Evans' team-mate TJ van Garderen fourth to take the best young rider's white jersey.

World time-trial champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) had to change bikes due to a mechanical problem and finished in 7:36 to place 45th.