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Overcoming grief, Tyler Farrar mentally and physically ready for the 2011 Tour de France

2011 Ster ZLM Tour, Tyler Farrar win. Photo courtesy of Ster ZLM Tour
Farrar made a W in honor of his friend after winning the Ster ZLM Tour

From winning stages at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Ster ZLM Tour to burying his best friend following a fatal accident at the Giro d’Italia, it would be a terrible understatement to call the first half of 2011 a rollercoaster for Garmin-Cervélo’s Tyler Farrar.

The tragic crash of Belgian Wouter Weylandt, Farrar’s training partner in his adopted hometown of Ghent, sent the American into an emotional tailspin. After riding a processional stage in honor of Weylandt the following day, Farrar abandoned the Giro and went home to Ghent, attending to Weylandt’s funeral and taking several weeks off the bike trying to process his loss.

Sadly Weylandt’s death wasn’t the first cycling-related tragedy Farrar has been forced to endure over the past decade. In April 2006 his friend and roommate Saul Raisin, a promising young American racing for Crédit Agricolé, crashed and suffered a head injury at the Circuit de la Sarthe — an injury that ended his career and nearly took his life. In October 2008 Farrar’s father, Dr. Ed Farrar, a spinal surgeon, was hit by a car while riding his bike to work and lost the use of his legs. In May of this year Farrar was again forced to face the harsh dangers of his chosen profession. And again, America’s best field sprinter over the last quarter-century pushed on.

In June Farrar returned to racing, taking the start at the Critérium du Dauphiné for the first time in his career. With sub-par form and still carrying a heavy burden, Farrar contended in only one field sprint, finishing a disappointing sixth.

It was at the Dauphiné that Farrar told a Dutch newspaper that he still was planning on racing the Tour de France — assuming he was fully prepared, a quote that would later be misunderstood, prompting misguided speculation that he might not be contesting the race.

On June 16, Farrar won the second stage of the Ster ZLM Tour, a lesser-known Tour warm-up race, a Dutch race held in the shadow of the Tour de Suisse. Crossing the finish line Farrar held his hands together to form the letter W in tribute to his fallen friend. It was an emotional finish for Farrar, who was near tears at the finish.

“It was a very important victory after the last month, which has been very, very tough for me,” Farrar said after the race. “It’s still hard to talk about it.”

At the Tour de France Farrar faces his biggest challenge yet — battling against Mark Cavendish and the rest of the sport’s top sprinters, for the green points jersey, with the pressure that comes with teammate world champion Thor Hushovd, a two-time green jersey winner, sacrificing himself for the goal.

Hushovd has sworn his allegiance to help Farrar don the maillot vert in Paris. The Norwegian also stated that he would like to win a Tour stage wearing the rainbow jersey; a stage 1 win in Mont Des Alouettes, which would also bring the maillot jaune, would go a long way in satisfying Hushovd’s personal ambitions and easing any tension between the Garmin sprinters.

Though he’s won Giro field sprints and beaten Cavendish head-to-head twice at the 2010 Vuelta a España, Farrar has not yet won a Tour stage. And still, at the 2011 Tour he’s attempting to win stages and take green, just two months after the death of his friend and training partner. It’s fair to call this year’s Tour Farrar’s toughest battle yet, mentally as much as physically.

Velo managing editor Neal Rogers caught Farrar by phone in late June, after the Ster ZLM Tour and before he headed to France’s Vendee region for the start of the Tour.

Q. I was surprised to hear during Versus’ coverage of the Dauphiné that you might not be racing the Tour. A week later you won a stage at the Ster ZLM Tour and were clearly back on your game. Can you explain what the confusion was about?

A. That was just a misunderstanding from an interview I did with (Belgian newspaper) Het Laatste Nieuws. I did the interview, which was printed in Dutch, and then probably run through Google translation or something, and it came across a bit different than what I had said. The interview was not so much about racing, but about Wouter. I talked about the fact that it had been a rough few weeks, but I never said I wasn’t going to ride the Tour. I was asked if I would be ready for the Tour, and I said, ‘I think so, but if I am not ready, the team shouldn’t send me. The team only sends its best riders.’ It was just a stock, standard interview, they printed it, and then the following day it showed up somewhere in English. It had been poorly translated, and all of a sudden I heard that on Versus they’d said I might not be racing the Tour. All these people started contacting me, and I realized right away that something had been screwed up. The first thing I did was contact the team, and told them not to think I was telling them one thing, and the media something different.

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