A conversation with Tyler Farrar: Breakthrough victory at Hamburg fuels motivation

Tyler Farrar notched the most important victory of his career this past Sunday in the Vattenfall Cyclassics in Hamburg, Germany. The classic win capped a break-out year for the 25-year-old Garmin-Slipstream rider, who’s won a stage at Tirreno-Adriatico, the overall at the Delta Tour Zeeland and five top-5s at the Tour de France so far this season. And he’s not finished yet.

By Andrew Hood

Farrar says he may get in as many as 100 races by season's end.

Farrar says he may get in as many as 100 races by season’s end.

Photo: Graham Watson

Tyler Farrar notched the most important victory of his career this past Sunday in the Vattenfall Cyclassics in Hamburg, Germany.

The classic win capped a break-out year for the 25-year-old Garmin-Slipstream rider, who’s won a stage at Tirreno-Adriatico, the overall at the Delta Tour Zeeland and five top-5s at the Tour de France so far this season.

And he’s not finished yet.

Keen to keep winning, Farrar is starting the week-long Eneco Tour Tuesday in Holland and then is slated to race the Vuelta a España later this month, marking his third consecutive grand tour. And he’ll likely race the world championships in Switzerland before wrapping up his season at Paris-Tours.

With the success, Farrar is content to stay where he is, recently penning a two-year contract extension that will keep him in Garmin-Slipstream colors through 2011.

VeloNews European correspondent Andrew Hood spoke with Farrar on Monday evening to discuss Hamburg, the Tour de France and what it will take to beat Mark Cavendish in the sprints. Here are excerpts from the interview:

VeloNews: (Today) you start the Eneco tour, there’s no stopping this year, huh?

Tyler Farrar: I’m in Rotterdam, in Holland, time for another bike race. I’m already in mid-70s for race days. It might end up coming pretty close to 100 days this year, mid-90s for sure.

Farrar wins in Hamburg.

Farrar wins in Hamburg.

Photo: Graham Watson

VN: And then the Vuelta, when did you decide to race it?

TF: It was something we hatched up, coming towards end of the Tour. I was still feeling good, and I am still chasing that grand tour stage win. It looks like there are a lot of sprints in Vuelta, so I will keep it rolling, to see it if I can get one there. It all depended on what Christian (Vande Velde) wanted to do.

If he wanted to do the Vuelta and focus on GC, we would have brought a team to support him, but he’s opted to go back to the Tour of Missouri. So why don’t I go and see what I can do? (Garmin sport director) Matt White said there will probably be four or five sprints in first 10 days, so there should be some good opportunities. I will take it as it comes. There should be a lot of sprints in the first half and then we will re-assess and see how I am feeling. It is my third grand tour of the year, so we will see how my body is holding up.

VN: Before this season, you’ve never raced a grand tour, now you’re prepared to start your third of the season?

Never having ridden a grand tour before 2009, he's doing all three this year.

Never having ridden a grand tour before 2009, he’s doing all three this year.

Photo: Graham Watson

TF: It certainly wasn’t planned that way when we made my schedule in November. The idea was to do the classics, the Tour and then maybe the Vuelta. When I got hurt at Milan-San Remo, I lost half the classics. So I came back and we said maybe I would get a crack at the Giro to get the legs for the Tour. I am still feeling good, so we’ll see what I can do in Spain.

VN: And after that, the worlds?

TF: I am doing the worlds. I love it, then there’s Franco-Belge and Paris-Tours. As long as the body holds up, I will keep going. So far, so good. If (Sunday) is any indication, I hope to do well. I had a good rest after the Tour. I went light on the post-Tour crits, I just did a few. I ramped it up the week before Hamburg. I won a kermesse in Belgium. It’s the biggest of the year, so that was a good indicator that my form is pretty good.

Winning at Hamburg

VN: Talking about Sunday, how did the race unfold for you and the team?

TF: It was a pretty low-key race. Two riders got away from the start, but as soon as we started up the first climb, the team did a great job helping get into position and taking care of me. I was always in the first 15 and I was always in good position. Even though half the team ended up hitting the deck, I don’t think they were seriously injured. Martijn (Maaskant) got 11 stitches on his knee and that will keep him out of Eneco. There’s nothing broken for Christian, but he’s skipping Eneco as well. I managed to skate through. It’s a one-day race, it’s really aggressive.

VN: Who was there to help you in the sprint?

TF: Millar and Christian did a great job taking care of me, keeping me out of trouble on the climbs. In the final kilometers I had Martijn and Chris (Sutton) there for me. CJ did a great job in the final kilometers to put me in the front. I was sitting on Columbia and Saxo Bank came over the top. Everyone was fighting for position. For awhile I was completely boxed and I didn’t even think I would be able to sprint, but with 150 meters to go, it opened up and I found some open road. I just went for it.

VN: What does a victory on this level mean for you?

TF: This is the biggest win of my career. It’s pretty satisfying. To win one of the classics is a huge goal that I’ve met now, but I’d like to win more. This is a race I’ve had my eye on all season. It’s the third time I’ve done it, so I knew it was a good race for me. It’s one of the classics that can end in a field sprint, so it’s an important race for me. I really came out of the Tour in good form, so timing-wise, it was perfect to capitalize on it. It’s been a really good season, I have good form and now things are going well. I hope to keep it rolling through Eneco and Vuelta and see if I can get a few more wins.

Reflecting on the Tour

VN: How would you characterize your Tour de France performance?

TF: It’s pretty satisfying. It was my first Tour and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had a good Giro and I was right up in the sprints, so I hoped I could win a stage in the Tour. We didn’t meet that goal, but I think I came as close as I could without doing it. I was consistently in the top-three in all the field sprints, so that’s very satisfying. Just to get to Paris in your first Tour was good.

VN: What did you learn during the Tour that can help in the future?

Farrar finishes the Mt. Ventoux stage in the company of other top sprinters.

Farrar finishes the Mt. Ventoux stage in the company of other top sprinters.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

TF: A lot of the Tour is just learning how to get through it. This year has been a big lesson in field sprinting for me. I was going well early and I popped for a win at Tirreno against some big guys. I kept learning about positioning and riding the sprints. From the Giro through the Tour, I was getting more consistent. It’s been a really good learning experience and I came away from the Tour with a lot that will help me.

VN: How important was the help and guidance of Julian Dean?

TF: Julian was the man. He was just incredible, day-in, day-out, he was always there for me. The entire team would help out. David Millar would chip in and Danny Pate would help. We were also riding for GC with Christian and Wiggins, so we had to divide our team. It was an incredibly successful Tour for Garmin.

VN: Was there ever any friction with Dean, who started last season as the top sprinter and now he reverted to his role as lead-out man this year?

TF: We just both want the team to win races. I’ve been riding well and Julian was there for me. He has so much knowledge. With the way I am riding, he was fully committed to helping me in the sprints. It’s really great to have someone like that, to have someone I can put my trust in, and all I have to do is worry about my sprint.

VN: You were close to a stage victory at the Tour, does that frustrate you or only give you more motivation?

TF: If anything, it on only motivates me more. Sure, I was getting frustrated after my second and third places. I want to win. That’s why I stayed serious after the Tour. That’s why I was there (Sunday). That’s why I am doing the Eneco tour and the Vuelta. I just love racing my bike.

VN: Mark Cavendish was the man to beat this Tour, how did you deal with his dominance in the sprints?

TF: He was pretty amazing at the Tour. When a guy can win six stages, it sure makes it difficult for the rest of us. I don’t think he’s unbeatable. During the year, I only managed to do it once, but I know it’s possible to beat him. I’ve made some big steps and I will to improve next year. He didn’t lose a field sprint this year, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to continue this way.

VN: Have you noticed anything or a weakness that you can exploit to beat Cavendish?

TF: For me, it’s just about keep doing what I am doing. We’re talking about beefing up our lead-out train next year and have a few more guys in the final. I think that will make a big difference. He doesn’t have to fight for position, he just sits back on his train and we’re all behind him, scrapping for position. So having a few extra guys for you in the final means that little bit extra in the final 200 meters. It depends on how much you have to fight to stay on the wheel, if you get into the wind, if you have to keep re-accelerating. Some days I had a pretty clean run and I was pretty close to beating him. He won because he’s starting the sprint in front of me. He was going the same speed that I was, but I had to catch him and pass him. If I can start the sprint in the right position, I know I can win.

VN: As a sprinter, do you fixate on Cavendish at the expense of the other sprinters?

TF: I do my best not to worry about what anyone else is doing. I assume everyone is in good, they’ve trained and they’re motivated. I don’t always look to the other riders. I am going to do what I need to do to ride the sprint that is best for me. I don’t worry about what the other guys are doing. It’s not like I am racing against one or two guys specifically. I’m racing against everyone.

Looking into the crystal ball

VN: Are you a sprinter who can do the classics or the other way around?

TF: I think I can be a bit of both. At a certain time of the year, you can be a sprinter, and then you can train a little different and become a classics rider. Sprinting is what I am good at, so that classics that fit my characteristics will be goals for me. I can be up for the spring classics, riding races like Milan-San Remo and Ghent-Wevelgem that suit me, and then support my teammates in races like Flanders or Roubaix. I want to be both. I have goals in the classics and in the sprints.

VN: Do you hope to win stages in the Tour and make a run for the green jersey some day?

TF: That would be nice. Winning a classic (Sunday) is a career goal that I’ve realized now. It’s already nice and I hope to win more. To win once is something special, something that not everyone can achieve. There are a lot of beautiful races to aim for – stages at the Tour, one-day classics, other wonderful races. I am young and I still have a long career ahead of me.

VN: So you’re heading back to the worlds, but it’s not an ideal course for you?

TF: I think the world’s course is pretty a hard course. It’s probably not a course for me to get a result. I think I can go and give some good support to a teammate who’s better suited for it, ride hard for 150-200km. I hope to make a contribution.

VN: You’ve done quite a few worlds now (this year will be his fourth elite), most U.S. riders pack it in already, but you keep going. Are the worlds something you’d like to win someday?

TF: I really like racing the worlds. It’s an important race. In the future, there will be courses that suit me and I will have that experience. I hear Australia (in 2010) is sprinter-friendly, as well as Copenhagen (2011). It’s good to have gone and done a few worlds. No other race is like racing the worlds, it’s different. It’s its own entity, because you’re not on trade teams, you’re on national teams. It’s a weird race, and going and doing it a few times helps me for the future when I have the go and get the result for myself.

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