America's fastest cyclist is no longer a secret, or a wild card. Tyler Farrar has spent most of the last decade trying to establish his place in the hierarchy of his sport -- not the simplest endeavor when you've strolled in from the cycling wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, no matter how huge a turn of speed you've got at the end of a race. But that finishing kick has opened a lot of doors: US junior national team stints at home and in Europe, contracts with Jelly Belly, HealthNet/Maxxis and Cofidis en route to turning pro, starts in all the big European races a kid needs to be riding to develop. Along the way Farrar kept showing the kind of strength and consistency that turns that fast kick into actual results, enough to the point where he's now found a home as Team Garmin-Transitions' ace sprinter and protected member of a classics juggernaut in the making.
Tyler Farrar joins us LIVE! This Tuesday, noon Pacific!
By every possible measure, Farrar has also made a home in the elite ranks of elite cycling. The Podium Cafe World Ranking has Farrar tied for third in 2010. CQRanking puts Farrar seventh for the year, up from ninth last season and 174th the year before. CycleBase has him 5th, up from 8th last year (and 199th before that). The Pro Tour ranks Farrar 10th. Nineteen wins in the last two seasons trails only Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel and Alberto Contador... pretty decent company. He's still in search of that signature win -- make that wins, as in a whole bunch of them if possible -- on which to build his legacy internationally and with the Tour-centric American audience. But at age 26, Farrar's encore to his breakout 2009 season confirms what people watching closely have seen coming for a while: finally, American cycling has another sprinter/classics guy to take very seriously.
I met up with Farrar in Seattle last week as he and his girlfriend Stephanie Wade kicked back to exhale after what seems to have been a hectic couple of years. The life of a cyclist -- even when everything goes according to plan -- never seems overly relaxing, but after a year of renovating a house on the leafy outskirts of the Emerald City's downtown, the couple have a home base back in the States, and apparently a handful of months to actually enjoy it, before the training camps start and Cycling fires up the roller coaster for another long, wild ride. Join us on the flip for our talk of 2010, what it means to Farrar at this stage of his career, some early thoughts about next season... and yeah, we talk about the classics.
I'm sticking to my traditional format of running this a bit long, with next to no editing. One thing you should know about Farrar, he spends more time smiling than your average person. In a handful of brief meetings or chats I can't claim to know him too well, naturally, but he comes off as friendlier, more patient, and happier to really dig in and talk shop with some website dude ("gentleman journalist"?) than I should have had reason to expect. I'm not about to drop in smiley faces, so as you read the bare text you'll have to use your imagination a bit. Oh, and I've added subject headers so you can skip around.
2010 -- The Big Picture
PdC: Are you feeling generally satisfied with how the season went?
TF: Yeah, I had four major objectives throughout the year and I met three of the four. So, really, that’s pretty good all things considered. The only thing that didn’t go as well as I hoped it would is the Tour. But sometimes there are factors you can’t control, that’s bike racing. But other than that I thought I ticked off all of my other goals.
PdC: And what were the other three?
TF: To win something during the classics. You know, you target certain races during the classics, but it’s such a stretch and one day races are always a bit of a lottery, so I kind of say "this stretch I want to win one of these races," so winning Scheldeprijs and the other close calls I had made me feel like my classics season was a success. Next was to win a stage of the Giro, did that. Next was a stage of the Tour. Didn’t quite get that. And a stage of the Vuelta was the final. So, three for four.
PdC: You talk about looking at races in blocks. You can’t really set yourself up expecting to win a particular race, can you? As you say, it’s a bit of a lottery.
TF: Well, yes and no. You certainly have to go into it with the intention of winning, riding to win at least. But you know there’s always that element of luck. In a one day race it doesn’t take that much bad luck to make it not happen. In a grand tour, you go in as a sprinter saying I want to win a stage in a grand tour, you’re going to have five to seven opportunities, and if things don’t go right one day there’s always another. If you go in saying "I want to win the Tour of Flanders," for example, you get one shot every year. But that’s the beauty of the classics to me, there are multiple opportunities, so if E3 goes wrong you have Scheldeprijs, if Dwars door Vlaanderen goes wrong you have Gent-Wevelgem. So you try and hit it on top form, basically from San Remo to Roubaix, and hope that luck’s on your side for at least a few of the days.
Melbourne Worlds -- Not Gonna Happen!
PdC: So tell me about the world championships. Were you where you expected to be?
TF: More or less. I was on a decent day, not the best day of my life but I certainly wasn’t on a bad day. I think realistically that’s not a course I would get around on, at least not at this point in my career. Maybe down the road. But right now even on my best day, maybe I would have lasted one more lap, but with two laps to go I was dropped. The climb, it was just that little bit too long, there was just that last 30 seconds that doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you have to go that much deeper, it just adds up in the end.
PdC: From a fan’s perspective it was really hard to tell whether the climbs were going to be too much for, well, name your rider. Going into it, did you have a sense as to whether, maybe this is kind of pushing it, or did you sense that maybe you’d be alright?
TF: No, basically the first time I rode a lap around the course, I said, no way. In the end, you can’t really call it a field sprint, more like a group sprint, but I really didn’t even expect that, to be honest. I could easily have seen someone winning solo on that course. And then we watched it, and it’s always different riding in training than in a race, so you always say I don’t think it’s gonna happen, just try to stay focused. Then we watched the Espoir [U-23] race and that was a pretty decent-sized group, and it gave hope, you know, maybe it is possible. So all the pros saw the way the Espoir race unfolded, they basically didn’t race until the last two laps. So the pro teams realized, well, if we do that, it will be a big group sprint, we have to race every lap. And that’s basically what we did. We only did one lap that I would consider we rode slow up the climb. Every other lap was at least solid, maybe not full gas, but enough so a sprinter like me couldn’t survive. I needed them to just cruise around until the last two laps to have a chance.
PdC: It seemed like Belgium, Italy, maybe Australia were the ones driving the pace on the climbs.
TF: Yeah, every team plays their cards. We wanted a sprint, but Belgium, they wanted to make it as hard as possible for Gilbert. Same with Italy, they didn’t have someone who could win a 60-rider field sprint. And Australia too, they have quick guys, but they’re still guys who need to sprint from a group than a true field sprint.
Tyler and Stephanie -- it's nice to be back home.
Bad Break: Le Tour
PdC: In the Tour you were second in stage six and third in stage 11. What percentage of your top speed were you at then?
TF: Ah... certainly not 100. It’s hard to say "I was 80%" or something, but yeah, I definitely wasn’t full speed. And it’s one of those things too, where, it’s sneaky. You get hurt and you’re totally messed up for the next couple days. So you just push through, and then you get a little bit better and you think "great, I’m back out, I’m recovered," and then you give it a try. And a few days later you feel even better, and you kind of fool yourself into thinking you’re healing. And it wasn’t until I quit the Tour and rested for two weeks and actually recovered that I realized, oh man, I was nowhere near the top of my abilities then.
It ended up making me take a much bigger break than I usually do mid-season. I am pretty good about resting, I take a small rest after the classics and a small rest after the Giro, but this time I took almost two weeks completely off the bike, which I almost never do during the season. In the end it really paid off, after the Tour I went to the Tour of Denmark, just to get the body moving again. I’d only started riding again four days before Denmark. So Denmark hurt a bit. But it got me right back up.
PdC: Do you take away any positive message from knowing that you’re that close even in your injured state?
TF: Yes and no. On some level you can think, oh yeah, that’s cool, but at the same time it creates an interesting situation where we had such a strong team for the sprints in the Tour, we had brought Julian Dean and Robbie Hunter, and they were both riding really really well. So you have to decide, I’m not really 100%, do we ride for me, do we ride for them? The team’s there to win a stage, so when they ride for me and I don’t win, it’s not a nice feeling to think, I didn’t win, those guys are riding really well, maybe we should have done it differently. Hindsight’s 20/20 and at the time you have to make the call. It almost worked!
PdC: It seems like HTC didn’t have the same control over the race this year that they had in 2009.
TF: Yeah, I would agree with that, I mean if you look at that team in 2009, we haven’t really seen a leadout train like that since Saeco, or maybe Fassa Bortolo, it’s been quite a while. There have been specific moments in time when you see teams that strong, but it’s really hard to accumulate a team like that and to keep it together. Having a team like that is something that only comes around now and then.
The Other Grand Tours
PdC: In the Vuelta you had Cavendish with only one teammate, and you with maybe one teammate or by yourself. And you two stages against Cav and the rest. Is this more chaotic, less controlled setting more favorable for you?
TF: Um... I don’t know about more favorable. I know I can ride that well, I know how to do that, because until the second half of last season I had very few leadouts in my career. I’ve been one of those guys scrapping around on my own or maybe with one teammate. It wasn’t until last year when I started to win some big races that the team started to build a leadout train. So I certainly know how to ride when it’s a bit more chaotic like that. Whether I prefer it... I don’t know. I won two stages like that in the Vuelta, but the flipside is in the Giro we had a big leadout train and I also won two stages. It’s more predictable when it’s organized and your team is doing the leadout. Yeah, it can go really well when it’s chaotic, but at the same time there were days when I had great legs, better than the days when I won, but it’s harder to control and there’s so much luck involved that those days I ran fifth or sixth. If I’d been in the right place I could have won those days instead, but that’s how it goes when it’s a big blob.
PdC: Riding substantial parts of three grand tours, was that always the plan?
TF: Yeah, that was the plan going into the season. I’ve actually done all three in ’09, and then again this year. The way I approach it, it works pretty well. It’s a different ball game if you’re trying to go in and finish all three, but as a sprinter I get in for the part that I want to be in on, and then get back out. Every year I try to finish a grand tour, usually that would be the Tour. This year the original plan was to do two weeks of the Giro, finish the Tour, and do two weeks of the Vuelta. But then the Tour turned into such a disaster and we kind of reevaluated a bit, cause I wanted to finish a grand tour this year, so we said OK, I only did two weeks of the Tour, so I’ll try and finish the Vuelta.
It’s certainly a lot of racing, but for me I’ve found that I need a lot of racing to be at my top. Generally the more I race the better I ride. Then it becomes a matter of managing the stress, and there the key is to give yourself good breaks, de-stress a bit, let it go, before jumping straight back into another one.
PdC: Is there any worry about your getting exhausted? With the world championships being a legitimate goal this year and next year, do you have to recalibrate a bit?
TF: Yeah, the racing schedule is always fluid. But that’s also a luxury, once you’ve established yourself and having won some races, and you’re considered one of the favorites for the worlds, you can tell the team "I want to pull out in the middle of the Vuelta," they’re probably going to be OK with that. There’s a reason you’re doing it, not just that "I want to go home."
But yeah, that’s something you watch. You build a plan, and, I work really closely with my trainer and the team, so everything’s really controlled. If I’m digging too deep we’ll pull the pin. But if I’m feeling good and everything seems like it’s working, like I say, so far it’s worked out well for me.
On Being A Classics Guy
PdC: Is your responsibility in riding in the classics much different than in the sprints? You may have to chase down attacks yourself even 40-50k out from the line?
TF: Um... sometimes. Maybe that’s the best answer. It depends on how the rest of your team is riding. For me personally; I don’t win by attacking everyone else and riding in alone. I follow-follow-follow, and hopefully it comes together at the end and I win the sprint from whatever group is left. That’s how it was in Flanders, I was in the group that caught the next group with three or four k left to go, so had the race been three km shorter, there was 20 riders in that group in front of us.
There certainly is more responsibility, you have to take care of yourself throughout the day, as compared to a sprint stage where you know it’s going to be a sprint, you can sit at the back all day as long as you’re up front with 10k to go. In the classics, you have support from the team, you have riders helping you do it, but it’s a lot on you to make sure you’re in the right place in the right time, and switched on, and not missing the big moves because you’re not paying attention. You have to be a lot more aware that if you go with a group now and you go backwards on a climb, and things regroup while others go in front... there’s a lot that goes into it.
PdC: So how do you switch over from being a sprinter to developing the kind of mentality for the classics?
TF: Well, I’ve been racing over there since I was 17 years old, I did a lot of the juniors versions of the classics, and the Espoirs versions, and those are races where there’s a lot more attacking involved. You have to learn the courses, when to make your move, when the crucial moves happen. So you know, all the guys who are really serious about the classics, they know, OK, when we hit this point in the race, you know its gonna go. You have to have the legs to go with it, but you’re not surprised by it. It’s just learning and building so that it just happens naturally in the race itself. And this is something I’m still learning, being a pack sprinter, this is a change I have to make in my mentality, you know: I’m not going to get it right every, I get it right sometimes. But I think that’s where I lost Gent-Wevelgem this year, the split I was in was a decent-sized group, 30 riders, and guys started jumping away.
PdC: On the Rodeberg?
TF: Yeah. And I watched them go and I felt really good. There was 50k-60k to go, and I can’t start throwing out bombs with an hour and a half left to race, there’s no way I can do that. So I kept watching guys coming across, and then all of a sudden there’s eight or nine really strong guys up there. I ended up attacking and trying to come across, but my group of four lost. I certainly had it in my legs to go when they went on the Rodeberg, but I didn’t have it in my head that I could to that. In the classics you have to think a little differently.
PdC: Wasn’t this the first year you have been totally fit and been a team leader for the classics?
PdC: I mean, you’ve got to go back a couple years when your responsibilities were very different.
TF: Yeah, the only other year I had a clean run through the classics and had really good form was 2007 with Cofidis. I was a worker there, I was riding for Nick Nuyens, and it was also my first time riding Flanders, riding those races. As a pro I hadn’t ridden those races as a protected rider.
PdC: So did this year feel like a baptism by fire for you?
TF: Oh, I don’t know. Like I say, it’s small steps -- I rode them as a junior as the main rider for the US team, I rode them as an espoir as the protected rider for the US team, so it’s not that I’ve never done it. It’s much different in the pros than juniors or espoirs. And also when you’re on a strong classics team like we have -- we also have Martijn Maaskant and Johan Vansummeren -- you have a few cards to play, and that definitely disperses the pressure a little bit. I know what I’m trying to do, but you also have other riders who can also be in the moves when they need to go, and count on other guys to be there when it goes down.
'10 Classics Part 1: Gent-Wevelgem
PdC: In Gent-Wevelgem did you feel strong enough to win that day?
TF: Um... I certainly was on one of the best days I’ve ever had in the classics. It’s impossible to say, I lost that race tactically with 50-60k to go, I lost by not going when that break went. Whether I’d been in that group... Eisel’s a pretty quick sprinter, so it’s hard to say. I think it was possible. My two biggest goals for the classics were the Scheldeprijs and Gent-Wevelgem, that was really what I’d aimed at. Like I said, it’s a situation that I’d been in very rarely as a professional, in the final breakaways of a one day race like that. I was just a little bit out of my element and didn’t make the right decision at the time. It’s a learning curve, and hopefully next time I’m in that situation I’ll respond a little quicker, be more on the ball.
PdC: Then you got on a pretty good roll at that point, you scored a couple wins in the next week and came fifth in Flanders, you really got your form to where you wanted to be.
TF: Well like I say you just aim at that block, and basically I work with one of the smartest trainers in the world, Adrie van Diemen, and we talked about it from the end of 2009, the first big goal of the season was the classics, and that’s what we’d been building for all winter. We didn’t even worry about the stuff coming later in the year, you never worry about the grand tours or anything. So the goal was always I want to be on top form from Milan-San Remo to Paris-Roubaix, about a three and a half week stretch. So he did a really good job helping me train right, getting the right race program, and it all went pretty well. I don’t think I could have been physically much better for that.
'10 Classics Part 2: Flanders
PdC: So in the Tour of Flanders were you positioned where you thought you needed to be? Or hoping it would come back together more?
TF: Yeah, certainly by the time Flanders rolled around I’d been feeling good about where my fitness was at. The spring had been frustrating because I had really good form straight through the spring, even in the earlier races I felt like I should be winning races. And up until that first win of the year at De Panne, I kept scoring second places, third places, I felt like I need to win something. So finally getting that stage at De Panne and breaking that dry spell, getting a win in a race like that is really good for your confidence. It’s funny, if I’d been second place in a photo finish, it wouldn’t have meant I was any slower than when I was winning, but there’s something about the actual victory that’s really good for your head. So much of it is confidence and trusting in your abilities, and getting a win like that really puts you in the right mind space for the rest of them.
In Flanders, I was one of our protected riders, but both Martijn and Johan had been protected riders before, so the thought was i would be a protected rider but it was more for those guys than for me, and maybe I could help them in the final hour. As the race played out I ended up having the better place on the day and I got to take my own crack at it. So there’s pressure but,... I surprised myself in the Tour of Flanders this year. I thought, OK, I’m on great form, maybe the best form I’ve ever had. For sure the best form I’ve ever had for the classics. But I’d never done a good ride in teh Tour of Flanders before. You know, this was my third Tour of FLanders this year, and the two editions before I didn’t finish the first one and I got 50th place or something in the other, I don’t know, just somewhere in the group that got dropped with an hour to go and rode in to the finish. So I was nervous but at the same time I didn’t have that feeling like I’m here, I’ve got to win, I’ve got to win. I just wanted to be there for the other guys in the finish, but as the race unfolded I was better than I thought I would be.
PdC: So your job wasn’t to be in the front of the race on the Molenberg when Cancellara’s making moves.
TF: Yeah -- I know that at least at this point in my career I’m probably not going to be able to go with Cancellara when he goes on the Molenberg. I hope in five years’ time I can. But OK if it comes down to a sprint with 40 guys in the end I can beat Cancellara. But there’s very few riders in the world that can follow him when he goes on one of those.
PdC: Yeah, I think there’s zero.
TF: Yeah. And as it worked out, Dave Millar was riding really well also, and he went when Fabian went on the Molenberg. And it was great for us, like I said, because I can play that card hiding in the group behind and hope they come back in the closing kilometers. For me, any time I start getting out in the wind in the final two hours, the less likely I’m going to be there at the finish. So I just have to gamble at those races and just hope someone else does the work and gets me where I need to be.
PdC: Is this the first time you’ve been that strong after 250km?
TF: Ah, yeah. Maybe Paris-Tours in 2008 would be another one where I felt like it was the end of 250k and I had 100% at the end, I wasn’t running out of gas. I’ve always been decent at the longer races. Even when I was an espoir and I would jump into the odd smaller pro race and I would do better. You know, sprinting against guys after 150k in the espoir race I would maybe get fourth place, fifth place. Sprinting against them after 200k I would get second. I handle distance failry well, the distance itself is never really the issue. The issue is if they blow up my engine on a climb, there’s not much you can do. So in Flanders, the fact that it’s 250k isn’t the issue; the issue is whether I can get over all those hills.
'10 Classics Part 3: Winning Time!
PdC: Scheldeprijs -- you were on form? Your team had good control that day?
TF: Yeah, By the time Scheldeprijs rolled around I’d done a good Gent-Wevelgem, I’d won a stage of De Panne, the team had won the overall in De Panne with Millar, We’d had that Tour of Flanders where I was fifth and Dave was off the front until 5k to go, not the very front but riding for third. At that point the morale on the team was really high. You know, we knew the way I was running if I could just get a clean run at the sprint -- Scheldeprijs is almost always a sprint unless the weather’s just horrible. If it’s really windy and raining, then yeah, it can break up, but we looked at the weather, we knew it was decent, so you’re almost guaranteed a sprint that day. We just had to do everything to make it a sprint, make it happen and hope I had good luck in the sprint. So that’s what happened, we burned up the team a lot, chasing stuff, just keeping everything glued together. In the end I had to ride the last few km alone, but again I knew if I could just get a clean sprint, I thought it’d be good, and lucky I did.
'10 Classics Final Act: Hell on the Cobbles
PdC: And last on the calendar, Paris-Roubaix. It sounded like that was just a terribly unlucky day?
[Slight laughter from Stephanie]
TF: Pretty much: we managed to bring down all three of our leaders in the same crash so... [laughs]
PdC: What sector?
TF: That was the sector before Arenberg.
PdC: The Secteur Bernard Hinault?
TF: Yeah, pretty much the worst time you could have something like that happen. It was a narrow sector, we didn’t have a good car position, we all crashed. Johan had a bad concussion so he was done. Martijn was able to get back up and start going. I got up, I wasn’t really hurt, but my handlebars were pointed off to the side. Julian Dean stopped with me and gave me his front wheel, but I was like "ah, the bike’s broke, I can’t do it.’ I tried to bend it back, I couldn’t even move the handlebars. Julian’s a bit stronger than me [chuckles] and he cranked it back as far as he could so my handlebars were kind of cock-eyed. I had a bike at the end of the Arenberg, a spare. So I just rode through the Arenberg like that [mimics a twisted position], chased through Arenberg, then I took the spare. So... I could still see the caravan in front of me, but in Roubaix the officials are really strict, they hold the cars behind the riders to make the barrage so that you can’t use the cars to come back. So that was the thing, if I could have used the cars then I could have gotten back to the front, but... the race never slows down after Arenberg, not to the extent that you can come back from a minute behind. We chased flat-out for a while, so you hope, you never know, and then they just slowly rode away from us. When it was obvious they weren’t coming back, we wanted to finish so we just rotated in the last 50k or whatever.
PdC: You talked about Flanders where the hills are a bit of a limiting factor for you, or maybe not, you’re obviously nearly there, but Paris-Roubaix doesn’t have the hills, of course. Do you think that course may be more suitable for you?
TF: Yeah, well, certainly if you just objectively looked at it and took a rider with my resume or ability you’d say Roubaix suits me better than Flanders. But I’ve done well in Flanders and I’ve never done particularly well in Roubaix. I mean, I like Roubaix, I hope I can ride well there one day. There’s that variable of luck and just hitting everything right, and there’s a few things that I think I can do differently through the classics season that’ll make that happen. That’s the thing, Roubaix is kind of the end of that bloc, and it depends how you approach the bloc. I think to really do well in Roubaix, you really almost have to approach it differently than the way I approach it where I say, OK, I want to be good from Milan-San Remo to Roubaix because I really hit top right then, I was top through Gent-Wevelgem, through Flanders, so maybe I was already just over the peak come Paris-Roubaix. So maybe just try and hold back that little bit more so I’m in form a week later. There’s little things to play with, but it remains to be seen if I can pull all that off.
What About La Primavera?
PdC: Well, that raises a question, where does Milan-San Remo fit in? Because that’s a race that often does end in a sprint. Do it force you to time your peak there a bit earlier and maybe mess up what you’re doing in Belgium?
TF: Um, yeah, I don’t know if I would say "mess up." I try to be really good in Milan-Sanremo. Again, that’s one that hasn’t quite gone right for me. I rode it in 2008 but, nothing quite went right in 2008 for the classics season, so I was there but I wasn’t accomplishing much. And in 2009 that’s where I crashed, on the Turchino, and separated my shoulder. This year I was there, I felt like I was on pretty good form, but I was just on the wrong side of a split over the Poggio and then, we chased hard but it just didn’t come back. But it is a race where, with the right luck and having my form, I think it’s a race I can do well in. It’s a pretty important race, so that’s something I’m always going to take seriously, I’m always going to go to Milan-Sanremo in top condition or two percent off top and try and go for the win there. As a sprinter that’s one of the biggest jewels there is, a sprinter winning Milan-Sanremo, it doesn’t get much better than that. I’m also a classics rider so I have that draw to Flanders and Roubaix, but the pull of Sanremo is pretty big as well.
Tuning Up for the Classics: P-N or T-A?
PdC: How important is it to ride Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico? Is it just a matter of needing to be in a race somewhere or is there something particular about that block of a week that really sets you up?
TF: I think it’s crucial, especially at that time of the year when you haven’t done so much racing yet, you maybe have 15 days of racing in your legs? There’s nothing other than Paris-Nice and Tirreno that replicates that workload to get you ready for Sanremo. The level of racing is SO much higher than Three Days of West Flanders or Murcia, it doesn’t compare. If you want to be 100% for Sanremo, and you kind of have to be if you want to do well there, you have to do one of those races. Otherwise, everything you do in the season are kind of tune-up races. Those are the first big races where it’s game on, everybody’s there, everybody that’s at the race is in good shape. I mean, maybe I’m wrong but it’d certainly be very rare in modern cycling if not never that someone’s won Milan-Sanremo without having done one of those. I might be wrong...
PdC: Ooh, I’ll have to look that up!
TF: Yeah, in modern cycling anyway. These days pretty much everyone does one of those races to get ready.
PdC: And any preference as to which one?
TF: [laughing] Oh, Tirreno! I’ve done Paris-Nice twice and I’ve done Tirreno twice, and I’d be perfectly happy never to go back to Paris-Nice again in my career. One, the weather is horrible, it can really be miserable. Some of the coldest days I’ve ever had on a bike have been in Paris-Nice. And it’s important, that week of racing is really what sets you up for the classics, and going to Paris-Nice where it’s so cold, you’re risking more crashes, you’re more likely to get sick. And it’s just a harder race than Tirreno. You can break your body down so much doing Paris-Nice that you never hit top form for the classics. Whereas Tirreno, the weather’s better. Paris-Nice you have one, maybe two sprints if you’re lucky, Tirreno you have three or four and two or three hard days. So it’s a little bit easier of a race, the weather’s better, I feel like it’s a better preparation for the classics. I think you see -- these days, pretty much all the classics riders are at Tirreno. There’s only one or two that do Paris-Nice.
PdC: Yeah, it seemed like it’s shifted in the last ten years as to where guys go.
TF: Yeah, they’ve changed Paris-Nice a lot. it was always hard -- and this is more coming from what I’ve heard from older riders on the team since I’ve only done Paris-Nice as it is now. But Paris-Nice is quite a bit harder than it used to be. It used to be maybe three field sprints in Paris-Nice, you’d have a prologue, a few sprints, a few hard days in teh Massif Central, and you’d always finish with the stage into Nice. And now the way they do it you have the prologue and one sprint day and then it’s straight into mountain stages. Even the final stage into Nice is a ridiculous mountain day, up the Col d’Eze. So, they’ve made that race progressively harder, which if you were using it partially as training and you’re not a climber? For me, I have to be really, really fit just to survive in Paris-Nice. And you want to be able to go in a little bit less fit and use that to bring your form up.
And the hotels in Italy are a lot better than the hotels in France...
Going to California...
PdC: Do you see yourself hitting the Tour of California at any point? Or is the Giro likely to be a priority most of the time?
TF: Oh, I think I’ll end up at California for sure. Given what the Giro route is this coming year, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I end up in California. I don’t know yet, we haven’t had the meeting, but I was pretty disappointed when they unveiled the Giro route this year, as a sprinter. I know it’s going to be amazing as a spectator, I think it’s probably one of the best Giros in the last decade, as a spectator. But for me personally, it’s hard to say ‘I want to go ride this three week tour for two or three sprint stages.' I mean, I think there’s going to be more than that in the end, but they definitely did not make a race for sprinters this year.
PdC: And the Tour route for next year?
TF: I think it’s hard, but it’s a fairly balanced Tour, there’s stages for everyone. The Tour’s always hard, but there’s always enough sprint stages and enough mountain stages to make it decisive. And they have the TTT back this year. Any time you’re in my team, TTTs are a priority. So, I like it. That last week looks pretty nasty, but it’ll be a great race, that’s for sure.
The Green Jersey -- And The New Points System
PdC: Do you go into it thinking initially about stages and not so much about the green jersey? Or have you been around the block enough with grand tours that you’re already targeting it?
TF: Um, it’s a little bit too early to say. Like I say, you break the season into blocks and I’m really not going to start worrying about the Tour until after the classics and after either California or the Giro. It’s kind of third in line at this point in terms of what I’m going to think about and worry about. But now that I’ve done a few decent rides in points competitions in grand tours, coming second in the Vuelta this year, and the Giro this year, had it been a sprinter-friendly Giro I think I probably could have won the points competition. But it was almost impossible for a sprinter to win the points this year. You would have had to win every single field sprint, and you probably still would have lost it to a climber. But, to be up there, I wore the jersey for six days, five days, I’ve shown myself that I can be a contender in those. You know, the first goal is always to win a stage... you can win a stage without winning the green jersey, but it’s pretty hard to win the green jersey without winning a stage. So you aim for stages with the green jersey in the back of your mind.
I think with this new points system, if you really want to fight for the green jersey, you’re going to have to do every single one of those mid-race sprints, there’s just too many points up for grabs. So if you’re serious about the green jersey, I think right from the beginning you’ll have to go for those.
PdC: So does the new system force you to make more of a choice ahead of time between stages or the green jersey?
TF: yeah, I would think so. As it was before where there’s three sprints on the stage, 6-4-2, usually the breakaway would gobble those up anyway. Usually there’s only maybe five times when you’re sprinting for all six points. Those break’s almost always gone unless they throw one in in the first 20k of the stage, which maybe they do on one or two stages. Usually the break’s gone and maybe you’re sprinting for third place points. So you could say, I’m not going to do the intermediate sprints today, or the first four stages I’m only going to concentrate on the finish, and maybe the sprints go to someone else and you’ve lost 4-5 points. But now with this new system, if you skip four of those mid-race sprints you could be 40-50 points behind like that. So if you want to be a green jersey contender I don’t think you can skip one of those. I don’t know what that’s going to do to how the race plays out. I don’t think anyone does. I mean, I’ve never seen anything like that in my career. It’s... ah, I can’t even say if I think it’s a good idea or a bad idea. Maybe I can tell you after this next Tour. But... there’s so many more points available, you can make 65 points on a single day... it’s going to be fought right to the end though. A lot of times the green jersey you get four or five days out and you can say, unless things go horribly, as long as he scores a few points each day it should be enough. But with that many points available things can change so quickly and you can make so much bigger moves than you could before. It’s going to add a lot of stress for the sprinters, that’s for sure. You’re not going to have any days where you can say, ah, it’s a grupetto day, there’s no points that I can get to, I’m just cruising through. It’s not going to be like that anymore.
PdC: One big difference is that Thor Hushovd will be your teammate. Have you had a chance to talk to him and discuss how you’re going to work together?
TF: A little bit -- in the race, we just found out about it at the Vuelta, he was at the Vuelta and we chatted about it during the race a bit. It’s certainly going to be a change for both of us, it’s certainly going to take some time to iron it all out. We have a team get-together at the end of November... and that’s when we’ll get to sit down. We’ve talked, but that’s when we’ll really sit down and iron out the details.
PdC: Apart from your possibly overlapping priorities, there’s a really positive side to this heading into the classics. I mean, you guys had a solid team this year but now you have a massive team.
TF: Yeah, I mean, on paper we definitely have one of the strongest teams in the world for the classics, and you can’t ask for anything better. Like I say the Classics are always a bit of a lottery and there’s that element of luck, so the more guys you have at the end of the race, the better off everyone is. It makes it easier to have teammates around. People automatically give way -- when you’re in the final group of 20 and there’s five guys from one team, people are automatically going to look to that team, and that allows you to dictate a bit more. But as far as the classics go, I think it’s a great situation and there’s the potential to do something great next season.
PdC: And this could play into your hands, right? Because now you’ve got teammates like Hushovd and Haussler who might be up front and attacking, that has to make it easier for you.
TF: Yeah, definitely, when you look at our roster, we have a rider, or two, for every scenario. Every scenario you can think of we have at least one, maybe two guys where that’s the best scenario for them. At the end of the day, we’re professionals, the priority is for the team to win the race. So if we can get in the end with 20 guys and we have five, then that’s perfect, we can send the guys for the breakaways up the road, the guys like me sit on the group, and maybe those guys stay away and they win, or maybe they come back and it’s a sprint from 20 riders and myself or Hushovd who’s just been sitting on them all day... it’s just the best situation you can be in.
We’re taking two very established teams and turning them into one, so that’s a big responsibility for us to merge successfully, to take two different cultures and turn it into one culture on the team. I think, there’s no reason why we can’t make that happen, but it’ll take a lot of effort from everyone to make that happen. But it’s a good group of guys, I like them all, so I think it’ll be really successful once we get all the little edges filed off.
A year ago I had the pleasure of talking with Farrar about his 2009 season, and when I mentioned that his win total was third in the world, he sounded surprised. This time around he speaks comfortably about his success, and while I hate when journos slide into psychoanalysis, I get the vibe from Tyler that he knows exactly what he's doing, where he is, and where he isn't, for that matter. Given his past, his long ascension through the ranks of both US and European cycling as a sprinter first but a one-day racer too, my guess is that his success comes as less than a surprise to Farrar himself. It's only us fans, watching from a distance, who might be surprised that a kid from the apple capital of Washington State might show up on the pointy end of the Tour of Flanders. Sure, getting there and winning are two different things, but with Farrar settling in among the elites of sprinting and the classics, with the Lance Era officially over, American fans looking for the next big home-grown hero should get used to seeing Farrar on the biggest stages of cycling, and some podiums too.