REDON, France (AP) — Two months ago, Tyler Farrar was demoralized, sleeping 20 hours a day. He had even stopped riding, overcome by sorrow after his best friend died in a crash at the Giro d’Italia.
On Monday, Farrar became the first American to win a stage of the Tour de France on the Fourth of July. It was the first time he had won a stage in cycling’s showcase race, and he dedicated the victory to the late Wouter Weylandt of Belgium.
After crossing the finish line, Farrar held up his hands to form a “W” with his fingers and thumbs in tribute to Weylandt.
“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.”
Farrar, a sprint specialist from Wenatchee, Wash., who rides for Garmin-Cervelo, sped ahead in the last few hundred yards of the 123-mile course from Olonne-sur-Mer to Redon to win the third stage. He has now won a stage in each of cycling’s three-week major tours — France, Italy and Spain.
The previous American to win a Tour de France stage was Levi Leipheimer, who in 2007 was first in the individual time trial in Angouleme.
“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.”
Norway’s Thor Hushovd kept the Tour de France’s yellow jersey. Hushovd, however, is a sprint specialist and is not expected to hold his lead through the mountains in the second and third weeks.
The top of the standings didn’t change much after the mostly flat trip into western Brittany that included a ride on a wind-swept suspension bridge over the famed Loire River.
It was during the third stage of another race — the Giro in Italy on May 9 — when Weylandt clipped a wall on a steep descent. He fell off his bike and slammed his head on the ground, dying almost instantly. It was the first death of a rider at one of the major tours in 16 years.
“It’s a little bit unbelievable to me at the moment that it actually happened,” said Farrar, who pulled out of the Giro after the accident.
Jonathan Vaughters, the Garmin-Cervelo team manager, said that from the time Farrar was 15 years old Weylandt was his best friend.
“He was almost two weeks without riding his bike at all, and sleeping 20 hours every day, and just totally, totally, totally demoralized,” he said. “But then he started training.”
Farrar rode in the weeklong Dauphine Libere in France and the lesser-known Ster ZLM Tour in June. Vaughters said that was a “bit of a risk.”
“It was probably the heaviest racing program of any sprinter,” he said. “But we had to do it as an emergency to get him going because he had taken so much time off, which was understandable. But it got him in shape.”
Vaughters said he wasn’t going to push Farrar to ride again, adding that he would have understood if the 27-year-old American decided to wait until next year to race again.
“I simply said: ‘Tyler when you are ready, we are ready to support you.'” he said. “That simple, really.”
Farrar gave Garmin-Cervelo a second straight victory following a win in Sunday’s time trial that left Hushovd with the yellow shirt.
Overall, Hushovd leads teammate David Millar of Britain, in second, by a split second. Cadel Evans of Australia of BMC is third, a second back. Three-time Tour champion Alberto Contador, who lost time Saturday after becoming entangled in a crash, is 69th — 1:42 behind the Norwegian.
Others looking to contend for the title on the Champs-Elysees on July 24 include 2010 runner-up Andy Schleck of Luxembourg and Bradley Wiggins of Britain. Schleck is eighth overall and Wiggins is 10th, each four seconds off the lead.
In Monday’s final dash, the HTC-Highroad team of British sprint star Mark Cavendish lined up near the 2.4-mile mark to escort him to the finish line. But by the last few hundred yards, Hushovd and Farrar had zoomed ahead.
“To have the world champion and yellow jersey work for you to launch the sprint, it’s crazy,” Farrar said.
The American nosed ahead of France’s Romain Feillu, who was second, and Spain’s Jose Joaquin Rojas, who was third. Farrar and a pack all had the same time: 4 hours, 40 minutes, 21 seconds.
Five breakaway riders jumped out early in the stage from the coastal town of Olonne-sur-Mer, building a lead of as much as 8 minutes, 5 seconds by the 46-mile mark. The fast-moving pack reeled them all in with 5.5 miles to go.
The 2-mile blustery ride over the Loire River temporarily broke up the pack. Another challenge was a sprint at Saint-Hilaire-de-Chaleons, about halfway through the stage.
There, Cavendish’s hopes of winning the green jersey — awarded to the best sprinter — took a bad turn. Hushovd cut ahead of him and Cavendish responded by burrowing his head into the Norwegian’s back.
Race officials penalized both men by docking them to the last places in the pack for the intermediate sprint, costing them crucial points for the green jersey. Cavendish says winning it is a goal this year. Hushovd has won that jersey twice, and says he’s not aiming for it this year.
Hushovd could be pressured for the lead as soon as Tuesday when the pack travels 107 miles from Lorient to Mur de Bretagne with a super-steep, 1.2-mile uphill finish.
For now, Garmin is reveling in two straight days of success on the Tour.
“Just keep drinking champagne, as long as my liver can handle it,” Vaughters said.
And about the Independence Day win?
“Yeah, an American winning on Fourth of July, that’s pretty good — I just thought of that,” he said. “We’re going to have to read the Constitution in the bus or something.”