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Tyler Farrar will be something of an oddity when he lines up Saturday for his Tour de France debut – an American sprinter.
For the first time in several years, since Fred Rodriguez lined up at Mapei and later at Silence-Lotto, an American will have a legitimate shot at winning a bunch sprint in the Tour.
And unlike Rodriguez, who rode his last Tours in support of Robbie McEwen, Farrar will see strong support from his Garmin-Slipstream teammates. Veteran lead-out man Julian Dean will be Farrar’s guide through the high-speed duel of nerves and speed.
A prologue victory and overall at the Delta Tour in June only bolstered Farrar’s confidence ahead of the Tour, where he will lock heads with new sprint king, Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC).
The 25-year-old has spent the past week in Girona, Spain, undergoing some intense workouts with his Garmin teammates and putting the finishing touches on his form.
VeloNews European correspondent Andrew Hood caught up with Farrar on Monday as he was traveling with his teammates to preview the team time trial course at Montpellier. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews: Congratulations on being selected for Garmin’s Tour team, how sure were you of gaining one of the nine spots?
Tyler Farrar: Crashing and separating my shoulder (at Milan-San Remo) was a hiccup in my spring, it obviously affected my classics. We knew right away it wasn’t serious, so it was just a case of bad timing for the classics. We knew if I could take a rest and recovery, go do the first two weeks of the Giro, and then maybe I could go to the Tour. It seems to be the way it worked out. It’s my first Tour, so it’s pretty exciting. It’s the biggest race in the world, you really can’t do anything bigger than this as a pro, so I am excited.
VN: You won the Delta Tour overall this month, that all came down to time bonuses, how does that help your self-confidence before the Tour?
TF: To win there was nice for the confidence to go into the Tour. It’s nice to win a race, because as a sprinter, there aren’t a lot of races when I get to contend for the GC, so it was kind of cool, a new experience. That race is always decided on the time bonuses. After the prologue, I tried to pick up time bonuses when I could. I managed to pick up enough time bonuses on the second day so that as long as it came down to a bunch sprint, I would win. Petacchi was the only one who could have come over me, so I just had to keep an eye on him.
VN: Do you approach the Tour any different than any other race?
TF: You have to approach it as just another bike race, or you can get too sucked into all the hoopla. When it comes to the racing itself, you just have to ride it like you ride any other race.
VN: You will be one of the top sprinters, so winning a stage must be the top goal?
TF: My goal is to hopefully to try to win a stage. I was really close on a lot of stages at the Giro. My form is good, if not better than it was in Italy. That’s in line with what I’ve done all season. Hopefully, luck will be on my side.
VN: There will be quite a few opportunities for sprints, has the team studied the route to perhaps select stages that are best-suited for you?
TF: We have an idea. I think there will be quite a few opportunities in the first two weeks. We should see several sprints in the first week, and then we get past the Pyrénées, there should be quite a few more shots at sprints as the race pushes toward the Alps. There should be plenty of opportunities for the sprints.
VN: Julian Dean will be your lead-out man in the sprints, how does his experience help you in the race?
TF: We really got to know each other at the Giro. We hadn’t really raced together a ton before that, so it was good to get into the groove and get to know each other better. We started to click together well. It’s great to have someone like him with so much experience. I have a tendency to get too excited. He helps me stay calm and to wait until the decisive moment. He helps me to be where I need to be when the time comes. That’s when his years of experience come shining through.
VN: Will the team be entirely working for you in the sprints, or will Dean get a few shots as well?
TF: We have really haven’t gotten into that yet. There’s no point in talking about all that two weeks before the race. Everyone is worrying about their preparation and training. Once we’re at the Tour, we’ll worry about that kind of stuff. In the end, it’s up to the directors to decide that. Our priority is to win races. Whoever has the best the shot to win, that’s who the team is going to ride for. I had a successful Giro, so I hope to get my chances.
VN: The Tour will see a lot of riders that you haven’t raced against very often, such as Thor Hushovd, Oscar Freire or Daniele Bennati, what are your expectations against the top field?
TF: You race against just about everyone at this race or that. I’ve managed to sprint against everyone a few times. At the Tour, what’s different is that all the best are there. That’s why it’s the biggest race in the world.
VN: When you make a sprint, are you measuring yourself against other riders, say Mark Cavendish, or do you simply try to make your own sprint?
TF: Personally, I tend not to worry about who the other sprinters are. I just worry about myself and ride the sprints the way I need to ride them. Obviously, there are some big riders with some big palmares, but I just worry about my own race.
VN: Have you developed a preference for a certain style of sprint the past few seasons? Do you like it straight out with a fast train or do you prefer a more technical finish with turns?
TF: I tend to like it with a long leadout, when we’re really on the gas in the last few kilometers. That’s when I am at my best. As a sprinter, you just have to adapt yourself to the course. You cannot narrow yourself down too much on just what works for you. You have to be adaptable. You have to study the course and know what the run-in is like. If there are a lot of corners, you have to be ready for it. At the end of the day, you’re sprinting against the same guys.
VN: Mark Cavendish has emerged as the top sprinter of your generation, how well do you know him?
TF: I’ve gotten to know him a bit. We’ve done a few races together. We get along all right. He’s obviously been the most successful sprinter the past two years. He’s the favorite. He’s one of the guys everyone is trying to beat.
VN: You’re one of the few riders to beat Cavendish head-to-head this year with your win at Tirreno-Adriatico, have you discovered some sort of weakness in his sprint or an opening you can exploit?
TF: Not particularly. He’s shown that he’s a really talented, all-round sprinter. He has a really solid team to support him. You have to focus on your own race, and ride to win. Obviously, he’s there, but you cannot be so focused on beating just one rider. You have to be focused on what’s happening around you. I’ve shown this year I am right there with him. If everything goes my way, I am capable of winning next month.
VN: It’s your first Tour, yet you will have a lot of pressure to try gain a stage victory, how do you cope with that?
TF: It’s my first Tour, so it’s going to be a learning experience. The goal is to win a stage. That’s what the team is hoping for. If that happens, that would be great. After that, maybe in that last week, you could be riding to support one of our GC riders who’s up there and making it through to Paris. I don’t think anyone willingly quits the Tour. You only stop the Tour when you have to.
VN: What does it mean for you personally to be on the cusp of starting your first Tour?
TF: It’s exciting. It’s one of those things you dream about growing up. To be there, to be part of the big show, it’s going to be exciting. This is what I’ve been working toward over all the years. I think I have made steady progression from year-to-year, with results and performances, so far, so good.
VN: You’re going to be the first U.S. sprinter in the Tour since Fred Rodriguez several years ago, does that have any special significance for you?
TF: It’s cool. For whatever reason, there have never really been a lot of American sprinters racing in Europe. We’ve produced more climbers, time trialists, GC guys, so it’s a little different. It’s really nice.
VN: Suddenly everyone is calling you a sprinter, but you still want to do well in the spring classics; what type of rider do you consider yourself?
TF: I think you can do both. You can prepare well for the classics in the spring, that’s your top priority for the first part of the season and dictates how you train. Once that is over, you take a little rest and build back up and focus more on the sprints. I think the two things go together well.