British hopes of a possible victory in the 7.1km Tour de France prologue were dashed as Norwegian Thor Hushovd powered to victory in Strasbourg.
Hushovd pipped Hincapie by 0.73 seconds
Hushovd overtook long-standing leader Sebastian Lang, who finished fourth, to finish in eight minutes 17.00 seconds.
American George Hincapie, the last man out, had to settle for second, 0.73secs adrift, with David Zabriskie third.
Bradley Wiggins finished 16th on his Tour debut, a second and a place ahead of fellow Briton David Millar.
Millar, a prologue winner in 2000 and runner-up in 2003, had entertained hopes of grabbing the yellow jersey on his return to competition after a two-year doping ban.
But he insisted he was "ecstatic" with his 17th-place finish, 14 seconds adrift of Hushovd.
"I am just so happy to be here, it's great," said Millar. "I am not even disappointed.
"I had a great ride, but perhaps I under-estimated the difficulty of it. But I have got to be happy just being here and feeling that good all the way round."
I knew I had a chance to do something good
Prologue winner Thor Hushovd
Hushovd, a powerful sprinter who won last year's Green Jersey, is not a contender for the overall title as he tends to struggle in the mountains.
He held the yellow jersey for a day in the 2004 Tour but surprised many, if not himself, by taking the opening time-trial, posting the winning time with 11 riders, including several specialists, still to follow him.
"I managed to find a good rhythm at the start and I knew I had a chance to do something good after I came fifth (in the prologue) in 2004," he said.
"This year I've worked a bit on my time-trial bike and I am used to it. I am happy with my time and it is a great start."
It was very disappointing. I was really gunning for this prologue
Hincapie, taking over the leadership of the Discovery Channel team in the wake of Lance Armstrong's retirement, is now a contender for the overall title after the withdrawals of Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich, caught up in a doping investigation.
Starting last, he was unhappy not to pip Hushovd, throwing his bike and helmet to the ground in anger after crossing the finish line.
"It was very disappointing. I was really gunning for this prologue," said the big New Yorker.
"I was maybe in too big a gear in the last 500 metres. But Thor did an amazing race, he deserved to win."
Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, the new Tour favourite, made a strong start, finishing only four seconds adrift of Hushovd, along with Australian Stuart O'Grady.
World time-trial champion Michael Rogers could only manage seventh.
Sunday's first stage will lead the peloton on a 184.5km ride around Strasbourg, and is widely expected to finish with a mass sprint.
1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) 8:17.00
2 George Hincapie (USA) 8:17.73
3 David Zabriskie (USA) at four seconds
4 Sebastian Lang (Ger) four seconds
5 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) four seconds
6 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) four seconds
7 Michael Rogers (Aus) six seconds
8 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) eight seconds
9 Floyd Landis (USA) nine seconds
10 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) 10 seconds
16 Bradley Wiggins (GB) 13 seconds
17 David Millar (GB) 14 seconds