Mark Cavendish's aim of a 16th Tour de France bunch-sprint stage win of his career yesterday fell apart in the final kilometre after Garmin-Cervélo's Tyler Farrar sheared away to take his team's second victory in as many days.
Just to make a disappointing day worse for Cavendish, the Manxman then saw the 20 points he had gained from victory in an intermediate, mid-stage sprint removed following his declassification.
Cavendish's alleged fault came when he and Thor Hushovd, in the yellow jersey, leaned into each other as they accelerated. Cavendish won, but the declassification of both from that sprint, showing the judges considered the Norwegian equally responsible, shifts Cavendish from fourth to ninth in the points classification. That leaves him 38 points adrift of leader José Joaquin Rojas of Spain – more than a single stage win.
Cavendish could have been in with a serious chance of setting the record straight in the final bunch sprint, but he directly blamed Frenchman Romain Feillu – second on the stage – for causing him to lose his line. The Briton finally had to settle for fifth.
"He took me out on the last corner," Cavendish said. "We were on the front too early. I got a bit swamped, I was quite comfortable to hang back. But kamikaze Feillu came flying in – I got channelled between Feillu and Rojas.
"Feillu causes havoc in every sprint. You ask every sprinter, 'Who causes havoc?', you might get a couple of Garmin guys saying me, but most of the guys will say Romain Feillu."
To judge by an interview with the newspaper Ouest-France, Feillu is not too impressed by Cavendish either, accusing the Briton of practising "psychological warfare" and "loving to repeat that he's the best".
Cavendish's troubled start to the Tour is by no means unusual – and by no means a guarantee he will not be capable of bouncing back.
In 2010, he crashed in the Tour's first bunch sprint, sat up in the second, but then won the next five bunch sprints, while 2008 was a similar story. The Manxman – speaking yesterday before he knew he had been declassified and fined Sfr200 (£150) – was in bullish mood.
"It's a shame, some people will write me off as they always do, some people will write my team off as they always do, but it would take a very uneducated person to do that right now," he said.
Following his brush with Feillu, the British fastman made a desperate chase to regain contact with Farrar's group, but the American – guided to the finish by team-mate Hushovd – was already out of reach.
Farrar raised his arms in celebration for a very emotional victory, and not just because it was the American national holiday and his first win in the Tour de France after three second places, a third and two fourths in the past two years.
As Farrar showed by placing his fingers in the sign of a W as he crossed the line, the American's victory was dedicated to his best friend Wouter Weylandt, the Belgian killed in a high-speed downhill crash in the Giro d'Italia in May.
When the Giro completed their homage to their fallen comrade the day after his death with a slow-paced procession over the entire stage, Farrar was in the line of nine riders from Leopard Trek – Weylandt's team – that crossed the finish together.
Along with Leopard Trek, Farrar then quit the race the following morning, and returned to his adopted hometown of Ghent. After breaking the psychological barrier by winning a stage of a small Dutch event in June, the American was ready for the biggest cycling race of them all.
"It's been a horrible two months after everything that happened in the Giro, a lot of ups and downs," Farrar said afterwards, "In the end I wanted to come back and do something special and pay tribute [to Wouter] and I I didn't know if that was possible.
"I trained hard and got stronger and finally I was able to do that on the biggest stage in the world. As for winning on the American national holiday, that's the icing on the cake."
Meanwhile Geraint Thomas, fourth overall at four seconds, quietly continues his spell in the white jersey of Best Young Rider, a title he held for the first week of last year's race.
Fifteenth in yesterday's sprint, the Welshman said: "I'm still doing a job for the team, but I get to wear this jersey, too."
Some will say Cavendish's chances of taking green in Paris, though, are looking ominously slim. However, as last year's comeback showed, the Manxman is never so dangerous as when he has a point to prove – and after yesterday's double setback, he has plenty of those.
Stage 3 (Olonne-sur-Mer to Redon, 198km): 1 T Farrar (US) Team Garmin-Cervélo 4hr 40min 21sec, 2 R Feillu (Fr) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team, 3 J J Rojas Gil (Sp) Movistar Team, 4 S Hinault (Fr) AG2R La Mondiale, 5 M Cavendish (GB) HTC-Highroad, 6 T Hushovd (Nor) Team Garmin-Cervelo, 7 J Dean (NZ) Team Garmin-Cervelo, 8 B Bozic (Sloven) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team, 9 A Greipel (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto, 10 J Engoulvent (Fr) Saur - Sojasun, 11 D Galimzyanov (Rus) Katusha Team, 12 S Turgot (Fr) Team Europcar, 13 E Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling, 14 G Meersman (Bel) FDJ, 15 G Thomas (GB) Sky Procycling, 16 L Gerdemann (Ger) Leopard Trek, 17 W Bonnet (Fr) FDJ, 18 A Kloden (Ger) Team RadioShack, 19 R Ruijgh (Neth) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team, 20 P Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto all at same time. Selected others: 44 B Wiggins (GB) Sky Procycling, 66 B Swift (GB) Sky Procycling, 126 D Millar (GB) Team Garmin-Cervelo all at same time. General classification after Stage 3: 1 T Hushovd (Nor) Team Garmin-Cervelo 9hr 46min 46sec, 2 D Millar (GB) Team Garmin-Cervélo at same time; 3 C Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team +1sec; 4 G Thomas (GB) Sky Procycling +4sec; 5 L Gerdemann (Ger) Leopard Trek, 6 E Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling, 7 F Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek, 8 A Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek, 9 J Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek, 10 B Wiggins (GB) Sky Procycling, 11 M Quinziato (It) BMC Racing Team, 12 F Cancellara (Swit) Leopard Trek, 13 G Hincapie (US) BMC Racing Team all at same time; 14 T Martin (Ger) HTC-Highroad +5sec, 15 P Velits (Slovak) HTC-Highroad, 16 T Van Garderen (US) HTC-Highroad, 17 M Cavendish (GB) HTC-Highroad, 18 M Harley Goss (Aus) HTC-Highroad all at same time; 19 A Kloden (Ger) Team RadioShack +10sec, 20 C Horner (US) Team RadioShack at same time. Selected: 23 B Swift (GB) Sky Procycling +11sec.
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