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COMPIEGNE, France (VN) — One is the loneliest number, especially if you’re an American racing Paris-Roubaix.
The ‘Hell of the North’ has never been a big draw among Americans, and no U.S. rider has ever won. This year, however, Roubaix sees only one American — Dimension Data’s Tyler Farrar — starting the 115th edition of the hardest race in the world.
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“I’ve been holding down the fort for a while,” Farrar told VeloNews on Saturday at the team presentation. “The classics have never been a priority in the United States. There’s never been more than a couple of us in any given race.”
Even in a good year, there would never be more than a handful taking on Roubaix. This year’s edition was supposed to also include Taylor Phinney (Cannondale-Drapac), one of the few Americans well-suited to racing the cobbles, but he was injured during a spill at Ronde van Vlaanderen.
With most Americans focusing on GC and climbing skills, it’s been largely left to Farrar to represent in the marquee event of the northern classics over the past decade. Sunday will mark Farrar’s ninth career start at Roubaix (tying him with Frankie Andreu). A record held by George Hincapie, who started Roubaix 17 times and finished second to Tom Boonen in 2005, should be safe for awhile.
Farrar, 32, has been a classics lover since he first came to Europe. As a promising sprinter and one-day racer, he was drawn to the cobblestone climbs of Flanders.
“They’re great races, they’re unique, they’re special. But for me it was also physiology, I was never going to be a GC rider or a climber,” Farrar said. “These are the races that have played to my strengths, and that’s why I love them.”
[pullquote align=“left” attrib=”Tyler Farrar”]”I was never going to be a GC rider or a climber. These are the races that have played to my strengths, and that’s why I love them.”[/pullquote]
Unlike most of his compatriots, who largely settled in Girona, Spain, or around Nice, France, Farrar looked to Belgium. For more than a decade, he’s lived in the heart of the bustling city of Gent, where he learned Flemish and trained on the roads featured in the northern classics.
“Experience plays such a huge part if you’re going to be a classics rider,” he said. “Knowing where you are, what’s coming next, knowing the roads, it’s really how the races are won and lost. You need that experience if you’re going to develop into that type of rider.”
Farrar’s had success in Flanders, becoming the only American winner of GP Scheldeprijs in 2010, the same year he was fifth at Ronde van Vlaanderen. A winner in stages of all three grand tours, Farrar has now slotted into a helper’s role at Dimension Data. On Sunday, he will be riding for Edvald Boasson Hagen and Scott Thwaites.
Farrar would like to share his enthusiasm for the cobbles with some of the young, promising riders that are coming out of the United States. USA Cycling has their U23 team based in Benelux, giving budding young pros a taste of racing on the narrow roads of Flanders.
Just last week, Farrar and Boasson Hagen linked up with some of the American U23 riders when they did their final recon ride on the Flanders. He’s hoping some of the love for the cobbles rubs off.
“We’ve got some talent, and it seems there is a bit of motivation. I would love to see more Americans in these races, for sure,” Farrar said. “They’re bike crazy in Belgium. It is a national sport, as a cyclist it’s nice to live there, and be part of it.”
So which nations pack the Roubaix peloton? On Sunday, 38 Belgians start, 31 French, and 23 Dutch riders. Other nations with one starter include China, Taiwan, Czech Republic, Ireland, Estonia and Luxembourg.