Garmin Cervelo’s Tyler Farrar made history today by becoming the first American rider to win a Tour de France stage on Independence Day, on an afternoon that also saw drama with a crash inside the final kilometre and controversy as his team mate Thor Hushovd and HTC-Highroad’s Mark Cavendish were disqualified from the intermediate sprint.
The pair had tussled, shoulder to shoulder as they chased the maximum 10 points remaining on offer – a five-man breakaway group had already passed through – in what seemed, to most watching, to be a hard-fought sprint to the line. Evidently, the race jury disagreed.
Learning about his disqualification from the intermediate sprint and the loss of ten potentially crucial points would have added to a frustrating day for Cavendish, who had been widely seen as the favourite for the win today but came home in fifth place.
On Twitter this evening, Cavendish explained that he had lost 30 metres in the approach to the line after he “tangled” with Romain Feillu and Jose Joaquin Rojas, second and third respectively, on the final corner.
He subsequently sent a message describing himself as “devastated” at news of his disqualification, saying that he had “no idea” why he and Hushovd had been sanctioned, and in a further tweet described the Norwegian as a “true gentleman” after learning that he had offered to take sole punishment.
That wasn’t going to sway the race jury, however, and Cavendish, who still feels he was harshly treated by the judges after being disqualified from a stage in the 2009 Tour – an incident that helped Hushovd beat him to the green jersey that year – will have further cause to suspect that the judges tend to treat him more harshly than other riders.
Hushovd himself isn’t targeting the points competition this year and is instead supporting Farrar’s pursuit of the green jersey. Speaking this evening before news of his disqualification was revealed, the Norwegian said: "To be honest with you, I’ve been fighting for the green jersey for the last 10 years and it’s hard for me to just sit back and watch as all my competitors go for the sprint.”
“But,” he continued, “once again: the green jersey is not a goal for me in 2011.
In the meantime, of course, he has the mailot jaune to defend, although he appreciates that he may have his work cut out to do that on Stage 4.
“The stage tomorrow is hard and the final is very difficult. I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep the jersey but I’ll do my best and follow the good moves and give everything I can to hang on and no lose any seconds but there’s only one name for the stage to the Mûr-de-Bretagne, and that’s Philippe Gilbert.
“Every day that a rider spends in the yellow jersey of the Tour de France is a big achievement,” Hushovd added. “It’s good for the confidence and it gives me motivation.”
His Garmin-Cervelo team mate Farrar meanwhile reflected on the first Tour de France win of his career and one that sees him join the select group of riders to have won stages in all three grand tours.
“I’ve been chasing this win for a few years now,” he revealed. “I’ve come close a lot and to finally get it is a huge relief. We won yesterday and that was already incredible – it was already a dream come true, just to stand on the Tour podium – but to do it again today… I just can’t even comprehend it.
“I think we showed that we also have a strong train,” he continued. “First there is Dave Millar and then Thor and then Julian and then myself – it’s been a work in progress since 2009 for us and it’s just getting better and better.
Yesterday, Farrar had played his part as he and his Garmin-Cervelo colleagues powered to victory against the clock, but he highlighted that winning today’s stage was something else altogether.
“The team time trial was something special, a victory for the entire team but to win a sprint… ah, it’s been a dream since I was a child and it’s finally come true.
“It’s incredible for me – I had the world champion who is wearing the maillot jaune leading out the sprint for me. It’s not a common sight but when you have that happening you have to do a good sprint. And to win on the Fourth of July is just another sign of how well it’s all come together today.
After crossing the line, Farrar made the shape of the letter ‘W’ with his hands to remember his friend Wouter Weylandt, killed in a crash during May’s Giro d’Italia.
“This one is for Wouter,” he said. “It’s been a big loss. It’s been a rough few months for me since… but I wanted to be good here in the Tour and try to do something to remember him and so I’m happy that was able to do it.”
Geraint Thomas remains in the best young rider’s white jersey and the Team Sky star burst to the front of the race as it came round the final corner although it turned out he was not looking to go for the win himself.
“I was hoping to be there for Edvald Boasson Hagen and Ben Swift but unfortunately, at the finish, they got knocked around a bit,” he explained.
“Hopefully, by the end of the week, there’ll be a few tired bodies and we’ll get a cleaner run.
“It’s great to be getting stuck into the action, get a few results and get to wear this lovely white jersey,” Thomas continued. “It’s the Tour de France, the biggest race in the world and it’s nice to be on that podium.
With the race crossing into Brittany today, one of France’s cycling heartlands, huge crowds greeted the peloton, although that added to the hazards for the riders, as Thomas pointed out.
“The last 50 kilometers was rather crazy. With the crowds it was intensified; they seem to think that it’s a mountain stage and that they can all get out of the way in time but we’re going at 60kph and it’s pretty dangerous at times.
“It was hectic, a proper Tour sprint,” he added. “It’s the first week, everyone is fresh and unfortunately Edvald lost my wheel and Swifty lost his wheel. If they’d been there, we would have been in a great position really.
"The plan was to hit out with a kilometer to go and that’s what I did… and I looked behind and there was no one there. There was no option of trying to hold on for the win myself: I’d used up all my energy and when you’ve got guys like Renshaw and Hushovd chasing you down, it’s going to take a super effort to stay away from them.”
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s Stage 4 on the Mur de Bretagne, strong favourite Philippe Gilbert said: “Since the start of this Tour I’ve worn almost all the jerseys and tomorrow I’ll race with the polka-dot jersey. It’s a rather beautiful collection.”
The only one he’s missing is the young rider’s white jersey, with Tuesday marking Gilbert’s 29th birthday, he’s too old to qualify for it.
The Omega Pharma Lotto rider, who celebrated his wife’s birthday on Saturday with a stage win at Mont des Alouettes, added: “The stage to the Mûr-de-Bretagne is one that I’ve waited a long time for because I think it’s a great stage for me. I hope to win again.
“It’s likely to be different to the day to Mont des Alouettes because the situation has changed since then… Alberto Contador, for example, has lost some time and he could attempt to make up for that in Stage 4. He can be an ally for me and it’s possible that I could follow his wheel for a while.”
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