Tyler Farrar created a bit of history yesterday, as he became the first American ever to win a stage in the Tour de France on the 4th of July. That he did so racing for an American team, made it all the more sweeter for the Yanks watching around the world. But as they say, one man’s dream is the other’s nightmare, so it proved for Mark Cavendish and team HTC-Highroad, as they missed out on yet another chance for a stage victory.
Garmin-Cervelo had scored their maiden win only a day before and so this successive triumph must be a stating of intent that they can compete and come ahead of the best. However it was the gesture shown by the Washington rider as he crossed the line, which resonated in every heart on the Tour. In his own words, Farrar has had a “horrible last two months” after he quit the Giro d’Italia following the death of his close friend and training partner, Wouter Weylandt who fell and sustained fatal head injuries during the race.
So like Lance Armstrong in 1995 (who displayed similar emotions as he saluted the sky in memory of his late team-mate Fabio Casartelli), Farrar crossed his fingers forming a ‘W’ in tribute and dedicating the victory to the late Belgian. It is moments like these that bring out the full impact of a Grand Tour. It reaffirms the stark reality of what these remarkable men risk every single day, while in a race or during training. And most of all, it shows deep down what they mean to each-other despite their rivalry. When compared to the demise of such a talented rider, stage victories almost pale in insignificance, and so do reports.
The show does go on however, and its commendable of Farrar to have paid his tribute at the highest platform possible. Yesterday’s stage meant much for him and the other main sprinters Hushovd and Cavendish. The scoring system has been tweaked this year that allows 15 riders to pick up points for ensuring the best sprinter wins the green jersey, rather than the most consistent finisher. The results are still awaited, and then would be put to much debate, but it certainly encourages more riders to head for the sprints.
Head they exactly did at the intermediate sprint, as Thor Hushovd and Mark Cavendish clashed helmets in their effort to rush to the line. Though the Manxman came out ahead, however the referees relegated both riders to the back of their group post-facto in view of the events. Cav was definitely not pleased and later tweeted he had “no idea” why the race officials took such dim view of a minor event, and one that is very common in the sport.
Rest of the stage was pretty uneventful as none of the main contenders had anything to fight for and most looked to stay out of any unseen trouble. The highlight then probably was the Saint-Nazaire bridge over the Loire which provided for some good TV shots as the riders crossed it heading for the finish. To me it resembled the famous “sea-link” back home, and how I would love to see some of these great riders do a promotional event on it someday.
The final sprint was chaotic as ever, and the small climb at the 2km to go mark seemed to have upset Cavendish’s HTC train. They had gone for the dash early and poor Cav emerged out of the climb (if one can call it that) alone, meaning he did not have the luxury of a planned lead out he generally enjoys. He finished a poor sixth, with the only consolation being one place ahead of the Tour leader Thor Hushovd. Top three places on the day went to Farrar, VCD’s Romain Feillu and Moviestar’s Jose Rojas, who also moved to top of the points standings.
Tomorrow is a technical stage, one which can prove hazardous if due care is not taken by the peloton. It finishes on the summit of the Mûr-de-Bretagne and the final 10km are expected to be intense. Being one of the three stages in cycling-mad Brittany, strong crowds are expected all along the route with the usual interesting characters and costumes on display.
This is a stage for Philippe Gilbert to make his mark again or someone like Thomas Voeckler. With the maillot jaune likely to struggle, many other riders too would be interested to put in a good show today. I am betting on Cadel Evans to break his fascination with second place and move into yellow by the end of the day. So till tomorrow then…
Jersey holders: General Classification:
Maillot Jaune – Thor Hushovd Thor Hushovd – 9h 46’ 46”
Maillot Vert – Joaquin Jose Rojas David Millar – 9h 46’ 46”
Maillot à Pois Rouges – Philippe Gilbert Cadel Evans – 9h 46’ 47”
Maillot Blanc – Geraint Thomas