By Julien Pretot
REDON, France (Reuters) - Tyler Farrar put the worst two months of his life behind him when he won the third stage of the Tour de France as a tribute to deceased friend Wouter Weylandt on Monday.
The American, the fastest man at the end of a 198-km ride from Olonne sur Mer, had not even been sure three weeks ago that he would start the Tour when he was still devastated by the death of his closest friend in the peloton.
"I wanted to do this for Wouter. It won't change anything but it means I don't forget him. I was thinking about him today," said Farrar after outsprinting France's Romain Feillu and Spain's Jose Joaquin Rojas on the line.
"This has been a horrible last two months to be honest, with everything that happened. I had lots of ups and downs.
"In the end, I wanted to be able to come back and do something special as a tribute. This is certainly the biggest stage to do that."
Belgian Weylandt died after crashing in the Giro d'Italia third stage on May 9 and Farrar quit the race the next day.
"He was almost two weeks without riding his bike at all," said Garmin-Cervelo team director Jonathan Vaughters.
"He was just totally demoralized. Then he started training again. He really suffered but he started regaining his condition. With something like that, we were never going to push him back on the bike.
"If he could only come back for the Vuelta or next year, I would understand," he added.
Farrar's victory was more excellent news for the Garmin-Cervelo outfit, who claimed their very first Tour victory the previous day in the second stage team time trial in Les Essarts.
The American team also hold the Tour leader's yellow jersey, still on the shoulders of Norwegian world champion Thor Hushovd as the top of the overall standings remained unchanged.
"We're going to keep drinking champagne as long as my liver can handle it," Vaughters said.
To top their current trend of success, Farrar became the first American to win a Tour stage on Independence day, a feat his team manager is ready to celebrate in an original way.
"We're going to read the constitution in the bus," he joked.
While Farrar and Hushovd's team were in high spirits, Briton Mark Cavendish was in an altogether different mood.
Winner of 15 Tour stages over the last three editions, he was the big favorite for this flat stage but found himself stuck between Feillu and Rojas in the finale and was unable to battle for victory.
"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," said Cavendish, who had to settle for fifth place.
The Briton was even disqualified from an intermediate sprint on kilometer 104 for rubbing shoulders with Hushovd.
The finish of Tuesday's 172.5-km fourth stage in Brittany between Lorient and Mur de Bretagne is probably too hard for Cavendish to prove his point just yet.
For the first time on this Tour, defending champion Alberto Contador ended the day without losing time on his rivals, finishing inside the main pack.
(Editing by Sonia Oxley)