It started out as any normal, flat stage in the Tour de France. With Norwegian Thor Hushovd of the Garmin Cervelo team wearing the Yellow Jersey, the mostly flat course was made for a last minute competition among the top sprinters.
But when the stage began back in Olonne Sur Mer, the question on everyone’s mind was would Hushovd sprint for the finish for himself, or would he lead fellow teammate Tyler Farrar for the win?
Here Cavendish would have to meet head on his worst nightmare, two star sprinters on the same team, Garmin Cervelo, and one of them already content with the Yellow Jersey.
And that’s just how it played out, with Farrar winning the final sprint, his first stage win in a Tour de France with a lead out from Hushovd.
“This one is for Wouter. 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.,” said Farrar who teared up talking about his lost friend.
It was a stage 3 win in the Tour de France, for a stage 3 loss of a comrade at the Giro d’Italia.
It wasn’t as if Farrar didn’t have competition from all sides. He held off a late challenge to the line by Roman Feillu, Jose Rojas and the Manx Missile Mark Cavendish whose team fell into disarray and lost their position in the final 1,000 meters.
In the end it was Farrar followed by Roman Feillu (FRA) VCD, Jose Rojas (ESP) MOV, Sebastian Hinault (FRA) ALM and Mark Cavendish (GBR) HTC to the finish.
Thor Hushovd retained the Yellow Jersey and the top five placements in the General Classification did not change from stage 2. Frank and Andy Schleck held the 7th and 8th positions, a nice push up into the top numbers of the GC.
Farrar was relieved to finally win a stage. Up to now he hasn’t been able to best both Hushovd and Cavendish to the finish. “I’ve been chasing this win for a few years now,” admitted Farrar.
“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,” said Farrar, whose soft spoken personality rarely belies the hard charging aggressiveness necessary for a sprinter.
The dynamics of the final kilometer must have been weighing on the minds of the HTC Columbia team’s Mark Cavendish, who would now be sprinting against the two other major sprinters.
Not a man to mess with, Cavendish has won 15 stages in five Tours, while Farrar has never won any stages until now. But after the HTC Highroads team lead out fell apart, there was no question that the Garmin Cervelo duo would have a major advantage.
Cavendish let the world know how he felt about the disappointing result: “NOT HAPPY! We came up a bit short so I tried to let some riders in @ 2km. Last corner tangled with Rojas & Feillu. Lost 30m. Salvaged 5th,” he twittered.
“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 so I can’t just be up there only following them but, once again: the green jersey is not a goal for me in 2011,” he said. In fact, today was the first time that Hushovd has worn the Yellow two days in a row.
Early in the race there was a five man breakaway which included Gutierrez (MOV), Delage (FDJ), Maxime Bouet (ALM), Terpstra (QST) and Perez Moreno (EUS), with little reaction from the peloton.
At one point the break was ahead of the peloton by five minutes and 20 seconds, then to a maximum of eight minutes and 5 seconds at the 74.5 km mark.
The mostly flat 198 km stage from Olonne-sur-Mer, to Redon also provided the ideal setting for non General Classification riders to win some points and Euros in the intermediate sprints.
Those sprint numbers have changed in the 2011 Tour with 20 points going to the first rider through the spring point, and the next 20 riders winning 19 points and down.
With 120km to go, the pace of the peloton picked up and by the time the break contested the intermediate sprint it was 6 minutes and 30 seconds ahead of the peloton. Delage led the break group to the line in St-Hilaire-de-Chaleons by starting his sprint about 250 meters from the points line.
That means the first man through the sprint won 350 Euros today, making the Tour much more of a daily play that does more than just gratify the GC contenders, and indeed can offer more of a bonus to riders who rarely win the overall classification.
The intermediate sprint also changes the dynamics in the peleton who now have the chance to sprint twice, once in the middle of the race, and again in the final kilometers. Previous to this Tour the Green Jersey points were more generously awarded at the end of the race.
Today all of the teams in the peloton lined their sprinters up for the intermediate sprint, with Alessandro Petacchi moving out to gain the win: he was bested by Hushovd who came up behind him, followed by Mark Cavendish who stepped up the pace and won the sprint handily.
Phillipe Gilbert was also in the fray, showing that he too will be competing for the Green Jersey this year. But it was only a precursor for the sprint to come at the final.
Also adding to the beauty and difficulty of the stage was a climb across the Saint Nazaire bridge which featured sweeping views of the ocean and a massive head wind, forcing the riders into a protective echelon formation.
With 21 km to go, the break was still in front, and Gutierrez was the first to attack. Eventually only he and Delage joined forces after dropping the other three when the peloton was 30 seconds behind. Terpstra, Perez Moreno and Bouet were caught 15km from the finish. Gutierrez and Delage were caught with 9km to go.
Jose Joaquin Rojas of Moviestar took over the Green Jersey with his final sprint, taking it from Phillipe Gilbert. But Gilbert picked up the red polka dot jersey. Geraint Thomas kept the White Jersey for most promising young rider.
OVERALL STANDINGS IN THE GENERAL CLASSIFICATION at the end of Stage 3
|1.||HUSHOVD Thor||51||TEAM GARMIN – CERVELO||9h 46′ 46″|
|2.||MILLAR David||56||TEAM GARMIN – CERVELO||9h 46′ 46″||+ 00′ 00″|
|3.||EVANS Cadel||141||BMC RACING TEAM||9h 46′ 47″||+ 00′ 01″|
|4.||THOMAS Geraint||117||SKY PROCYCLING||9h 46′ 50″||+ 00′ 04″|
|5.||GERDEMANN Linus||14||TEAM LEOPARD-TREK||9h 46′ 50″||+ 00′ 04″|
|6.||HAGEN Edvald Boasson||114||SKY PROCYCLING||9h 46′ 50″||+ 00′ 04″|
|7.||SCHLECK Frank||18||TEAM LEOPARD-TREK||9h 46′ 50″||+ 00′ 04″|
|8.||SCHLECK Andy||11||TEAM LEOPARD-TREK||9h 46′ 50″||+ 00′ 04″|
|9.||FUGLSANG Jakob||13||TEAM LEOPARD-TREK||9h 46′ 50″||+ 00′ 04″|
|10.||WIGGINS Bradley||111||SKY PROCYCLING||9h 46′ 50″||+ 00′ 04″|
|11.||QUINZIATO Manuel||147||BMC RACING TEAM||9h 46′ 50″||+ 00′ 04″|
|12.||CANCELLARA Fabian||12||TEAM LEOPARD-TREK||9h 46′ 50″||+ 00′ 04″|
|13.||HINCAPIE George||144||BMC RACING TEAM||9h 46′ 50″||+ 00′ 04″|
|14.||MARTIN Tony||175||HTC – HIGHROAD||9h 46′ 51″||+ 00′ 05″|
|15.||VELITS Peter||179||HTC – HIGHROAD||9h 46′ 51″||+ 00′ 05″|
|16.||VAN GARDEREN Tejay||178||HTC – HIGHROAD||9h 46′ 51″||+ 00′ 05″|
|17.||CAVENDISH Mark||171||HTC – HIGHROAD||9h 46′ 51″||+ 00′ 05″|
|18.||GOSS Matthew Harley||174||HTC – HIGHROAD||9h 46′ 51″||+ 00′ 05″|
|19.||KLÖDEN Andréas||74||TEAM RADIOSHACK||9h 46′ 56″||+ 00′ 10″|
|20.||HORNER Christopher||72||TEAM RADIOSHACK||9h 46′ 56″||+ 00′ 10″|
|21.||BRAJKOVIC Janez||71||TEAM RADIOSHACK||9h 46′ 56″||+ 00′ 10″|
|22.||LEIPHEIMER Levi||75||TEAM RADIOSHACK||9h 46′ 56″||+ 00′ 10″|
|23.||SWIFT Ben||116||SKY PROCYCLING||9h 46′ 57″||+ 00′ 11″|
|24.||GESINK Robert||41||RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM||9h 46′ 58″||+ 00′ 12″|
|25.||POPOVYCH Yaroslav||78||TEAM RADIOSHACK||9h 47′ 09″||+ 00′ 23″|