PdC: So you raced in Seattle?
TF: Yeah. Actually I grew up in Wenatchee doing the Washington State local circuit.
PdC: amusing to me because I live in Seattle and am a cat-4 pack fodder racer doing Seward Park and you were doing the same races.
TF: Yeah! I’ve done a lot of laps around Seward Park over the years. [laughs] No, it was really great. I ended up a junior racing with the adults all around Washington, it was kind of what I needed at that point to get better at bike racing.
PdC: How’d you do at Wenatchee (RR)?
TF: It wasn’t really a race at all til I was 17 I think? When it was just a criterium I won the 1-2s. I actually got to ride it once it became a stage race about, lemme think here, 2007 I rode it. Because I’d hurt myself in the classics and I’d gone back to the states to heal up and to get back in shape I rode it, which was kind of fun.
PdC: Fun for you, not so sure about the other racers?
TF: Yeah, well I hadn’t ridden my bike for about a month so they were alright.
PdC: So I hear it’s a lot warmer in Girona, how did you wind up in Belgium?
TF: Originally I came to Belgium with the US National team, they have a house in Izegem not far from Gent where I live now. So they put us up in this house and we’d travel to all the races, just because Belgium is pretty centrally located so it makes the most sense running a program like that on a small budget. There’s a ton of racing in Belgium and then to get to races in France, Germany, Holland they’re short drives. So I continued with the U23 program and spent four years coming to Belgium. Then I turned pro with Cofidis and moved to France for one year, and I realized I just wasn’t happy there, it just wasn’t my scene and I had a lot of friends back in Belgium, so I ended up coming back here.
PdC: [states my love for classics over the Tour]
TF: I think as a rider I fall into the same category, I’ve always had a fascination with the classics. The first race that really caught my attention was the Tour of Flanders. I kinda got into riding bikes and got into this mad hunt for any magazines about bike racing, and for whatever reason the first one I found was a classics edition. I was just studying any magazine I could get my hands on.
PdC: always a fan, from 1985. P-R blew my mind
TF: Yeah, they’re crazy races, there’s so much drama crammed into one day, it’s a spectacle.
[reveals he doesn’t have an official fan club!]
TF: I have some friends who probably would do it if I would let them, but it’s not really me.
PdC: Where do you like to train around Gent?
TF: Generally if I want to do hard training, that’s when I would go down to the Vlaamse Ardennes and ride all the climbs from the Tour of Flanders. From Gent it takes about an hour, hour and fifteen of flat riding on little farm roads to get there, and once you’re there you can do as many of the climbs as you want, zig-zagging around in the hills, get your training in and then you have another hour and fifteen to get home. If I’m just out cruising on a base ride, then I go every direction you can from Gent. I have some friends that live up north, sometimes I’ll go meet them and we’ll just go out and make big loops through the farms. But the majority of my real serious training is on the roads from Flanders.
PdC: Are there a lot of pros near Gent that you typically train with?
TF: There’s a handful that live within a reasonable distance from Gent. I train with them occasionally, but for the most part I like to train alone. I kind of grew up training alone so I mostly like to do my training alone. But I have a few guys like Wouter Weylandt from Quick Step, he’s one of my really good friends so we go out sometimes. Steven Caethoven who rode this year for Agritubel, he and I go out a few times.
PdC: Getting to this year, us fans will look at Cycling Quotient points… you were ninth in the world in points, fourth in the world in wins. Is this something you guys care about or look at?
TF: Occasionally, it’s not something I really focus on. I actually didn’t know I was fourth in the world in wins, that’s not too bad!
TF: When it comes to UCI points you kind of know, when you’re up there in the rankings it’s kind of worth it to look at it. I think if you’re outside the top ten it doesn’t’ really matter, but it’s still fun to look up where you are.
PdC: How do you feel about the progress you made? From our perspective it was an incredible season.
TF: I can’t argue with that, it was much more than I’d hoped for. My first couple years with Cofidis I had some injuries, and I’d race from spring to fall but there would be a big break in the middle where I got hurt. My first year with Cofidis I had problems and wasn’t allowed to race, and I was kind of flying under the radar and it slowed my development a little bit. Then last year I finally got a full season in, no injuries, no nothing, was just able to do all the races I needed to do. And I think that really paid off, you saw once I got a solid year of racing in me.
PdC: Is there one win you prize above the others?
TF: Vattenfall and the Vuelta are my two biggest wins. Personally Vattenfall actually means a little more to me because it’s a one-day race, to me that’s something special to win a classic. Obviously winning a stage in a grand tour is a big deal, but I’ve always had this dream of being a classics rider, so doing well in a one day race is always nice.
PdC: is there a big difference physically between winning a classic or a stage of a stage race?
TF: It depends, which is not a very satisfying answer, but you know sometimes you get into a stage race and your eight days, ten days in, and everyone’s a little tired, it’s a flat day, everyone knows it’s going to be a sprint, and you get the right break up the road and you just kind of cruise along at 35kph all day and it’s pretty easy, you just sprint at the end. Other times it’s full gas all day, but you can get either. Whereas in a classic you’re pretty much guaranteed it’s going to e full gas, there’s no tomorrow, nobody’s trying to save their legs or recover for the mountains. Typically I find it’s harder at the end of one day races as opposed to stage races.
PdC: More interested in classics?
TF: Yeah, I am very interested in them. The unfortunate thing this year is that I separated my shoulder in Milan San Remo and I missed all the classics, and I was really focused, my number one objective of the season was the classics, and 100k into MSR I crashed. But if everything goes to plan I’ll be targeting the races in April, that’s the first big goal.
PdC: Do you train for the classics the same way you do the stage race sprints?
TF: You tweak it a little bit. It’s not really so different. Looking at the classics, obviously you do some training on the cobblestones and recon the courses. Maybe before a grand tour I’m doing a little more motor pacing and really focused sprint work, and the classics I’m still doing sprint work but I’m also doing more threshold work.
PdC: of the classics are there some you’re focused on? Same as Maaskant or trade off?
TF: Obviously having a guy like Martijn and now Johan Van Summeren we have two guys who are really proven in Flanders and Roubaix, so I think those two races I’ll be in more of a support role for those guys. And then for maybe Milan San Remo and Gent – Wevelgem will be something where I can make it a goal for me to get a result.
PdC: Is Robbie Hunter coming on board to help you at the end of the race?
TF: yeah, Robbie’s a really experienced rider, he’s quick, he knows how to ride sprints, how to do leadout. This year in a lot of races I would have either Julian Dean or Chris Sutton with me in the end, which is great, but when you’re going up against Columbia when they have five guys, six guys totally dedicated to the leadout, it’s difficult. If I bring Robbie in and have Robbie and Julian Dean together, that’ll be a pretty good train to take care of me in the last km.
PdC: If you have enough of a competing train you can wrest control?
TF: I hope so, yeah. There’s not really an argument this year that Columbia was the best team in the world in leading out sprints, they don’t make mistakes often, but next year’s a new season, and I think you can see with my team as the season went on they started to get confidence in me and believe in me more, and that always helps guys commit to riding the sprints. Actually a lot of the guys had never really tried to lead anyone out before, so it was really a learning experience for a lot of the guys on our team. Looking to next year now the guys have a bit more experience, they have confidence in me, and we brought in some more guys with experience already, so I think we’ll have a strong team for next year.
PdC: So is the goal to get on their train or take over the front?
TF: The problem is their team is so committed and so well organized, with a couple guys you can’t get on the front with 4k to go. So we have to play off Columbia with Julian. Then either Cav or Greipel is sitting on the back of that train getting a free ride to the finish, not wasting any energy fighting for position, and Julian and I are back there with all the other sprinters fighting for Cav’s wheel or Greipel’s wheel and we’re wasting energy. So if we can get our own train up there instead of fighting with Columbia, that always helps.
PdC: So the difference is you don’t have the luxury of positioning with their train that you would if it were yours?
TF: Exactly. You’re not the only sprinter trying to be behind that train. If I could just say, ok they lead Cavendish out and I’m behind Cavendish and then we sprint, that’s a big deal. But when I’m back there, Hushovd wants his wheel, Freire wants his wheel, Boonen wants his wheel, that’s what a field sprint is. It’s all fighting for position. If I’m not going to waste energy fighting to be behind him, we’re going to hit the front with 2k to go, I’ll just sprint from the front hopefully. Because I think you could see there was a few days in the Tour and the Giro, I think speed-wise I was going the same speed as Cavendish, but I would start one or two guys behind him and I would finish on his hip, and it’s like, OK, I covered the ground in the same speed or faster than him but I was starting from too far behind him to win.
PdC: Was it a big deal to beat Cavendish in Tirreno-Adriatico?
TF: Yeah, of course, that was my first ever Pro Tour win, that alone is a big deal, but in one day to beat all the big sprinters is great for your morale or your confidence. I think that was the first time I realized that I was out there and competitive with these guys and as fast as them.
PdC: Cavendish dominating… when you race against him do you think about him or concentrate on your own plan?
TF: Mostly I try to ride my own race. Obviously when he’s in the race you have to take account of him, he was the best in the world this year. You’re always paying attention to what the other teams are doing, what teams are strong and what teams are going to ride for a sprint. But you can’t become too myopic and say “I’m racing to beat Cavendish today” because there’s plenty of guys in the race who are fast enough to win. You have to focus on putting yourself where you need to be to win and hoping you have big legs to win.
PdC: How would you describe how Slipstream has helped you?
TF: Once I stepped up this year they really gave me the support and they kind of let me make a race program that really suited my needs as far as doing races I could do well in as well as doing races for development. And that’s really important. When I got hurt at Milan San Remo and I missed the classics, they said why don’t you go and do the first two weeks of the Giro, which wasn’t our original plan. Our original plan was I would do the classics, take a big break and build up for the Tour. But because I had this injury they said, why don’t we do this. A team that says to a young rider, why don’t you jump in with the team for two weeks of a grand tour – not many teams are willing to do that, and that’s really important. They’re always really willing to work with me to help me be where I need to be fitness-wise for the big objectives.
PdC: Was there a big change in the team from the Tour onward? Did the morale really change?
TF: Well, it was positive all the way through the year, but we’d had this insane run of second places in the first half of the season, as a team we had some thirty-something second places, and it was kind of frustrating because as a team we were having a good year from the start, but not with a lot of wins. It was like we were always in the hunt but not there. And then the team had a pretty good Tour with Wiggins in the top five and Christian in the Top Ten, and I was up there pretty much every day in the field sprints, and it helped build up everyone’s confidence a bit. Before I think we fell into the trap of thinking we were a bit of an underdog and we were going to try and play off the other teams. The Tour helped us realize that we are one of the strongest teams in the world now and we have to ride like it, not worry so much what other teams are doing but worry about what we’re going to do. Once we got that confidence we started winning, and it just builds on itself.
PdC: One possible strength for you is time trials. Is this something you want to develop more?
TF: As far as prologues go, yes. I think I’ve shown I can be a pretty good prologue rider. I’m always kind of up there for short prologues in that 5k and under range I can be right there, maybe win, or place high enough so that I can take the jersey with time bonuses on the first few stages. I also tend to go well in team time trials. As far as long individual time trials go, that’s not really a priority for me. I can ride a decent long time trial, but I’m not a specialist and no matter how much I work on it I don’t think I’m going to be on the level to win races.
PdC: You were second in the Rotterdam prologue of the BeNeLux Tour. Does that get you thinking about the Tour de France prologue in Rotterdam, or is that race (8km) too long for you?
TF: 8km is definitely longer. Usually for me the shorter the prologue the better I am, the shorter it is the more it suits a sprinter because of their explosiveness. 8km is still not that long, You know, if I do a little work on it coming into the Tour I hope I can rider a decent prologue. I don’t think over 8K I can be competitive for the win with guys like Cancellara or Zabriskie, but I hope I can be up there.
PdC: Any meaning to being the first American to accomplish certain goals? There haven’t been many top American sprinters in Europe.
TF: It’s nice but being the first from your country to do something just means you came along at the right time. If I had been around 20, 30 years ago I could have been the first American to win a stage of the Tour, but it’s not something you can affect. I let others worry about that.
PdC: Like us!
PdC: Next year or two the Worlds might be a good fit for you. Is this something you’re thinking about?
TF: yeah, I’ve heard rumors that they’re both going to be sprinter friendly so I’ll talk to the team to try and build a race program so I can be in top shape for the worlds and really make an effort for it. The worlds is a really special race and to be able to get a big result at the worlds is a big deal in anyone’s career. As a sprinter you only have a few opportunities. I’m really excited for it and I hope I’ll be able to do something; at one of them.
PdC: Last question, is there one race where you hope “someday I really want to win ___”?
TF: Ah, there are so many amazing races out there I think it’s really hard to pick one in general. Every win is a beautiful win in its own way. Any race is special.