COPENHAGEN (VN) — American sprinter Tyler Farrar says he feels surprisingly good despite his high-speed crash at the Vuelta a España, but admits he won’t know if he can challenge for the rainbow jersey until he hits the road Sunday.
Farrar, who will captain the American elite men’s squad, has been putting in the training hours since crashing out of the Vuelta in stage 8 on August 26, but said not completing the Spanish tour is far from ideal preparation for the world championship.
“I haven’t raced since my crash in the Vuelta. The training has been going really well and I think I feel alright,” Farrar told VeloNews. “We will see what happens on Sunday. You can train hard, but racing and training are two different things. I haven’t had the chance to race to know where the form is at.”
Farrar was able to return to training a week after suffering a full-speed crash ending in Talavera de la Reina, when he side-swiped a wheel of another rider and touched ground at 65kph. Farrar thought his season was over right then and there, but X-rays revealed no broken bones. After a week’s rest, doctors gave the Garmin-Cervélo man the green light to resume racing.
Despite heavy aches and pains, Farrar got back on the bike to try to prepare for Copenhagen.
“It’s such an important opportunity as a sprinter, that I didn’t want to pass it up. It’s certainly not the ideal circumstances, but I think I’ve made the best of it,” Farrar told VeloNews via telephone from his European home-base in Ghent, Belgium.
“I feel pretty good right now. I’ve trained about as hard as I ever had in the end of September, that’s for sure. Usually, at this part of the season it’s going race to race. As a pro, you really don’t train that much in September, so that’s something a bit new.”
With no racing on his schedule, Farrar underwent intense motor-pacing training sessions on the roads around Ghent to chase form coming into the eight-hour world’s race. Farrar’s girlfriend, brother and another Belgian friend took turns to motorpace him across the Flanders countryside.
“I didn’t have any races to slot in after my Vuelta crash. I had to do something to try to replicate the speed and tempo of racing. I’ve been getting out motor-pacing quite a bit over the past two weeks to try to have that snap in the legs,” he explained. “I do 50-100km at 50kph or so to imitate that race speed. I rode a couple of hours a day behind the motor.”
Whether that’s enough remains to be seen on Sunday, but for Farrar, just being able to race the worlds is a major achievement. Farrar crashed so hard in his full-flight sprint that he thought he broke his leg or hip.
“It’s up there as one of my worst, if not my worst crash ever. To be honest, I thought my season was over right there,” he said. “To have walked away from it as well as I did, and be training again a week after that crash, I was pretty lucky. I guess I have thick bones.”
Farrar was motivated to post a bring result in the Vuelta, which only saw a handful of bunch sprints in what’s been called the hardest ever editions of the Spanish tour. The mostly flat stage into Talavera de la Reina saw the first “real” bunch sprint of the first week, so all the sprinters were elbowing for position in the high-speed charge toward the line. With 400m to go, Farrar found himself boxed-in and shot into a gap to open up his sprint. Instead, he clipped wheels with Vacansoleil’s Michel Golas and provoked a major crash as the peloton roared toward the line.
“I think was coming off of Sagan’s wheel. I was kind of boxed in and I saw an opening that at the time it looked like it was big enough for me to get through, obviously it wasn’t,” Farrar said. “I was trying to move to the right, and the space wasn’t quite big enough for two of us. You get that, ‘oh no’ moment, here it goes, and then you’re on the ground. That’s how it goes in sprinting sometimes. You see a gap and it’s a split-second decision and it only takes misjudging it by a little bit to crash, and that’s what happened.”
In the immediate aftermath of the crash, Farrar lay crumpled on the ground before eventually limping across the line. Fearing his leg or hip was broken, Farrar could not put any weight on his injured leg, and slinked into a waiting ambulance for a trip to a local hospital. Incredibly, there were no broken bones, but Farrar was coughing up traces of blood.
“Nothing was broken. The doctor at the race said I could start the next day if I could handle the pain. The Vuelta was an important part of my worlds preparation, so I wanted to continue if there was any chance at all. If I could get through it for a day or two, and then I could loosen up,” he said. “During the next day’s stage, I started coughing up blood and that resulted in a trip back to the emergency room.”
Farrar’s morning after was full of drama. After spotting traces of blood in his spit, he rushed to the hospital before the start. More x-rays revealed no major injuries at the time, and he hurried back to start the ninth stage. He was in such a rush he forgot to pin on his race bib. He was determined to try to finish the stage, but less than an hour into the stage, he was coughing up larger traces of blood, a telltale sign of potentially dangerous internal injuries. Doctors later diagnosed a small, 1cm-by-3cm contusion on his lung.
“During the stage I started breathing hard and coughing up blood much more significantly. That’s much scarier. I got straight to the car and headed straight back to the hospital. I did some more detailed (CAT) scans, and that’s when they found some contusions on my lung. Then they said one week of absolute rest. I barely moved off the couch,” Farrar explained. “I went back in for a second scan. My season hinged on that second scan. If I had gone in and it showed a contusion, I would have been done for the year. Luckily, I got a clean bill of health and I could start training the next day.”
After all he’s been through, Farrar is hoping to perform at a high level on Sunday. This year’s world’s is perhaps Farrar’s best chance to make a run for the coveted rainbow jersey. He raced the circuit in last year’s Tour of Denmark and believes it will come down to a bunch sprint.
“I like it, it’s a really nice circuit for me. It’s not dead-flat, it’s not super-hard, either,” he said. “We’re still going to have to suffer a bit to be there. It’s not like we can just sit in the field all day and only pedal the last 10km. The weather could be a big factor. I could see a group of 100 coming to sprint if the weather is good. It’s certainly not as hard as recent world championships.”
Regardless of what happens Sunday, Farrar will race for the last time in what’s been a roller-coaster 2011 season that’s seen crashes, his first stage victory in the Tour de France and the tragic death of his best friend, Wouter Weylandt, in the Giro d’Italia.
“I think I will call it a season after Sunday. That will be my 95th day of racing for the year. That’s probably enough,” he said. “There have been some pretty big highs and some pretty big lows this year. I will happily close the book on 2011.”