Rotterdam: Despite poor time-trial performances this season, Lance Armstrong edged past his main Tour de France rivals by claiming an unexpected fourth place in Saturday`s prologue.
The 38-year-old American, aiming for an unprecedented eighth Tour title, trailed Swiss winner Fabian Cancellara by 22 seconds.
However, Armstrong beat defending champion Alberto Contador by five seconds as other overall contenders lost ground during the 8.9-km race against the clock through the streets of Rotterdam.
World champion Cadel Evans of Australia was 17 seconds behind Armstrong while Giro d`Italia winner Ivan Basso finished 33 seconds adrift and Luxembourg`s Andy Schleck was 47 seconds back.
"Step by step it (his condition) is getting better. I`m pretty content with it," Armstrong told reporters after being supported by girlfriend Anna Hansen, his children and Hollywood actor Ben Stiller on Saturday.
Armstrong, who dominated time trials during his Tour glory days between 1999-2005, has struggled in the discipline since his return from retirement last season.
His 44th place in the Tour of Switzerland`s prologue three weeks ago was a sign he may have found it hard to compete with Contador and company on Saturday.
"I don`t know, those time trials, I think I lost it," the American said earlier this week before riding powerfully in Rotterdam.
"I can`t complain," he said. "I felt pretty good today. From this morning, the whole day ... it was a hard time trial, deceivingly hard."
"In my heart that was a surprise. I was not the best out there today but ... I have to say it was the best one I`ve done since the comeback."
"It could have been a little better ... but if you had told told me this morning, `Hey, sign up for fourth and put time on your rivals`, I would have signed with both hands."
This year Armstrong tried to get back to his old routine in the build up to the Tour ... and it seems to have paid off.
"I think I`m a little ahead, I think there are a lot of differences," he said.
"Last year I did the Giro (d`Italia), one month break, and then the Tour. This year I had the crash (at the Tour of California) but at least I had races in June. I think, for me, racing in June close to the Tour is a better route."
Armstrong, however, refused to get carried away after just one day of a three-week race.
"I can`t forget that some (rode) when it was absolutely soaking wet (on Saturday). It was a factor in the results," he said.
"Let`s not get ahead of ourselves. It was a good ride, I felt good, the team went good, but this is a long three weeks. You have (the first stage, on Sunday), the paves (cobbles), the Alps and the Pyrenees."