The focus of this year's Tour de France, which began yesterday, has been on the bitter rivalry between favorites Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador — old and new heroes of the race — who last year shared a team but not a wealth of team spirit.
But the Tour's focus shifted slightly today, to another dramatic rivalry — that between the nearly unbeatable sprinter Mark Cavendish and a new, dangerous contender: Wenatchee-born Tyler Farrar.
Farrar, 26, made his debut at the Tour last year, where he tried again and again to unseat the Manxman Cavendish, without success. But there's reason to believe that the Washingtonian will find more success this year. Farrar won the overall classification in this year's Tour of Zeeland and took two stages in the Tour of Italy, the first "Grand Tour" of the season.
Of course, neither of the Italian stage victories was contested by Cavendish. Still, Farrar showed yesterday that he's in top shape, coming home in seventh place at the prologue time trial (incredible considering sprinters like Farrar don't normally fare well in time trials).
Today should have been the first test of the Cavendish-Farrar rivalry. The Tour's first official stage was perfect for a sprint finish. But three crashes within the last few kilometers marred the final stretch. Cavendish was knocked out in the first. In the third crash, a sprinting rider hit the deck and his bike bounced off the pavement, shattering Farrar's derailleur and rendering his bike un-pedal-able. He ended up walking across the finish line as the rest of the riders wobbled home.
"It's a shame because
everything had gone so well and the team worked so hard for me," Farrar said in a press release this morning.
We'll be following Farrar's progress for the next few weeks as he continues to spar with Cavendish and the other sprinters. (While tomorrow's stage through Belgium may end up being too hilly for the sprinters, Wednesday's race into France should be ideal for a rematch.)
The rest of the press can have their Contador-Armstrong drama. For now, we're rooting for Farrar.
Stay tuned here for the action.
After the jump: a Versus profile on our favorite rider.---