QuickStep sprinter Gert Steegmans admitted the absence of teammate Tom Boonen is adding to his woes on what he labelled a "strange" Tour de France.
Steegmans' plan to battle to his second career win on the race were ended by a tactical error near the end of the 232km stage, which was won by British sprint sensation Mark Cavendish.
Cavendish, who hails from the Isle of Man, grabbed his maiden Tour win after outgunning some of the fastest men in the peloton after his Columbia team had set up a textbook 'train' to help lead him to the line.
Steegmans could only finish 12th, having blown all his hopes of grabbing his team's first stage win this year due to a tactical error. He won Stage 2 of the 2007 Tour with Boonen's lead out.
"I'm a little bit disappointed because I had really good legs," Steegmans told AFP, claiming that one of his rivals had tried to upset their plans by sitting on his teammate Steve De Jongh's back wheel. "Someone was sitting on Steve De Jongh's wheel the whole time, trying to annoy me. At the end I didn't see the relay train because I was trying to see my own teammates, and I was more focused on my plan."
Cavendish's teammate Bernhard Eisel later admitted that it was Columbia sprint duo Gerald Ciolek and Cavendish who had been benefiting from De Jongh's slipstream.
Ultimately, however, Steegmans said a tactical error - after De Jongh had moved past another of his Quick Step train, Matteo Tosatto - cost him dearest.
"I made a mistake with about 800 metres to go," Steegmans said. "I was strying to follow Steve, and he accidentally passed Tosatto, then we had a little miscommunication. So at that moment I was in the wind when I should have been hidden away from the wind, so I blew myself up there. Before the sprint I was already finished.
"I'm pretty sure it cost me the stage - I was nearly dying afterwards because the pace was so high," he added. "I knew we couldn't make any mistakes, I made two little ones and the sprint was over."
With the first week of racing all about innovation, the fast men have had few chances to show the world their top end speed in the hectic bunch sprints for the Tour finish lines.
The fact that former stage winner Boonen, who was told to stay at home by Tour organisers following a recent positive test for cocaine, is absent has made it an even stranger Tour for the big Belgian.
"It's a different Tour, eh? But it's a strange Tour without Boonie (Boonen)."
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008