REDON, France — Tyler Farrar claimed the first Tour de France stage win of his career with a half-bike length victory Monday in the flat, windy and unusual first sprinters’ stage of the Tour de France.
Competing in the event for the third time, Farrar of Wenatchee claimed the 198-kilometer (122.9-mile) trek from Olonne-sur-Mer in 4 hours, 40 minutes and 21 seconds and at an average speed of 26.3 mph.
“The team was incredible,” said Farrar, speaking in French live on the French national television broadcast a few minutes after the race.
“I had a World Champion (Thor Hushovd), the Yellow Jersey and Julian Dean leading me out. The whole team was there.”
As he crossed the line and gained his fifth victory of the season, Farrar made a “W” gesture with his hands to honor Wouter Weylandt of Belgium, his best friend, who died in May at a crash at the Giro d’Italia.
“This has been a horrible last two months with everything that happened in the Giro,” Farrar said. “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. But in the end, I wanted to be able to come back, and do something special to pay tribute, and this is certainly the biggest stage in the world to do that.”
With his victory, Farrar not only joined teammate and David Zabriskie as the only Americans to claim stages in the Tour de France, Tour of Italy and Tour of Spain — cycling grand tours — but also became the first American to win a Tour de France stage on July 4.
“I certainly would have taken it on any day,” Farrar said. “But as an American, winning on the Fourth of July, it’s the icing on the cake. … Lucky me.”
Hushovd’s presence at the front of the field was rare. The reigning world titlist from Norway assumed the race lead Sunday in the team time trial won by Garmin Cervelo. Usually in stage racing, the race leader is surrounded by teammates, not helping a teammate win a stage.
Hushovd retained his slim race lead over another teammate, David Millar of Great Britain, after finishing sixth in the stage. Mark Cavendish, who Farrar has finished second or third to nearly a dozen times in the Tour de France, didn’t seriously contend for the sprint and finished fifth.
“I’ve been at the Tour a few years trying to win a stage and being close a few times, but victory has eluded me until now,” said Farrar. “But we showed yesterday just how strong the team this year is winning the time trial. It was big relief and a bit of a weight off the shoulders. You saw how the boys rode today. It was incredible.”
Despite the event’s long history, stage 3 provided a first. The starting and finishing cities are among numerous cities making their Tour de France race debuts.
Olonne-sur-Mer is a seaside resort community of about 14,000 citizens known for its natural beaches and marshlands. Redon rests on the border of Brittany and the Loire and hosts a famous annual festival themed around chestnuts. The area is also known for its vast waterways.
Niki Terpstra (Quick Step), José Ivan Gutierrez (Movistar), Maxime Bouet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Mickael Delage (FDJ) and Ruben Perez Moreno (Euskatel-Euskadi) broke from the field of 198 just after the start and built a 45-second lead after two miles.
The five riders stayed ahead for much of the day, increasing their margin to approximately seven minutes while often negotiating steady crosswinds and averaging about 25 mph for the first three hours of racing.
As per usual and particularly with a sprint finish expected, the main field steadily began to reduce its deficit. With 50 kilometers (31.2 miles) left, the leaders had only a 1:24 lead, and it was shrinking quickly.
The five leaders were caught in the final few miles, setting up the expected fast-paced final assault to the predicted mass sprint finish.
Farrar’s teammates moved his toward to the front of the front of the field as it negotiated a final sharp corner with 600 meters left. The abrupt turn brought down a few riders.
Cavendish wasn’t in a strong position but Farrar followed Hushovd and then teammate Julian Dean of New Zealand. Farrar took the middle lane and bolted to the front flanked by runner-up Roman Feiluu of France and Jose Joaquin Rojas of Spain who finished second and third.
“When I first came to the Tour, I think I had the speed to win, but I don’t think I had the technical savvy,” said Farrar, who following his friend’s death wasn’t sure he’d compete in the Tour de France this year. “But I trained very hard and I’m improving.”
After losing more than four minutes in the opening stage after getting caught in a crash five miles from the finish, Farrar is now 169th in the field of 198, trailing by 6:26.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.