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TELLURIDE, Colorado (VN) — The smile across Tyler Farrar’s face could be spotted from 400 meters away as the Garmin-Sharp rider crossed the finish line first at the opening stage of the USA Pro Challenge in Telluride Monday.
It was the American sprinter’s first victory since July 4 of last year, when he won his first and only stage of the Tour de France. It’s been a long and difficult road between the two.
Farrar never got close to winning a stage at last year’s Vuelta a España, pulling out on stage 8 after a horrendous high-speed crash one day earlier. At the sprinter’s-favorite world road championship in Copenhagen last September, he could only muster a 10th-place finish.
Farrar’s 2012 season has involved several close calls at races like the Tour of Qatar, Tirreno-Adriatico and Scheldeprijs, and he’s been part of three winning team time trial squads this year. But he had not yet crossed a finish line with arms aloft until Monday.
“It’s been horrible to go winless,” Farrar said. “As we all know, sprinters are judged by wins, and whether you finish second, third or fourth, it doesn’t count. Over the last year the crashes have been disastrous. It’s nice to finally have something positive, and be moving in the right direction again.”
It’s been a tough road, both physically and mentally, for Farrar, whose closest friend, Wouter Weylandt, died tragically after a high-speed crash at the 2011 Giro d’Italia.
In May he crashed heavily at the Giro, which was won by his teammate Ryder Hesjedal, and was forced to abandon with a severed artery in one hand.
During the first week of the Tour, Farrar hit the deck three times in three days, struggling to finish the race.
“The Tour de France was no fun,” Farrar said. “I smashed myself three days in a row in the first week, and spent the rest of the race limping through it. It’s hard when you’re injured. You can’t realize your own goals, and you can’t even help your team realize its goals. I was just plugging along to get to Paris, just to say I’d finished.”
Farrar finished 33rd at the Olympic road race, and at the Tour of Utah two weeks ago he was beaten in a field sprint by a pair of lesser-known sprinters, Jake Keough (UnitedHealthCare) and Marco Benfatto (Liquigas-Cannondale).
His winless streak, which stretched over 13 months, had gone long enough that some had begun to question whether Farrar still possessed the mental edge necessary to contest field sprints.
Farrar took a giant step towards silencing those questions with his win in Telluride, on a difficult stage that delivered three categorized climbs and 9,238 feet of elevation gain, with teammates Tom Danielson and Peter Stetina the last two men standing from a dangerous 22-rider breakaway.
“Today I knew there was a chance for a sprint, but we weren’t riding for the sprint,” Farrar said. “We wanted to catch some guys napping, and to get Tom and Pete up road and get some time on GC. That didn’t end up working out, so it’s nice I was able to salvage the day with a win.”
Farrar’s win was demonstrative — he finished far enough ahead of runner-up Alessandro Bazzana (Team Type 1-Sanofi) that there was never a question as to who would take the stage.
The last time Farrar stood on a podium in North America was at the 2008 Amgen Tour of California, where he wore the leader’s jersey after finishing third in the prologue, behind Fabian Cancellara and Bradley Wiggins, and then picked up bonus time on the next two stages to wrestle his way into the race lead. He was forced to abandon the next day due to a stomach virus. His last race in North America was the 2009 Amgen Tour.
“This race wasn’t originally in my program,” Farrar said. “During the Tour I had a sit-down chat with Allan Peiper, and he asked me if I wanted to go back to race in the States. He said, ‘Utah and Colorado are not really races for you, but they might be fun,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, why not? It’s been a long time.’”
Reaction from his Garmin team was one of joy, and also relief.
“Tyler really, really needed this,” team director Charly Wegelius told VeloNews. “He’s been chasing after his tail for a long time this season. Everybody knows how it is with sprinters when they lose — the mojo, it’s hard to get it back. He’s worked really hard for it and never gave up. And he’s been falling down and picking himself up and falling down. It’s fantastic that he could win today.”
Farrar’s teammate Christian Vande Velde took to Twitter, posting, “The Ginger Ninja gets the monkey off his back in the mountains. So happy for him.”
As for Farrar, he was just happy to be talking to the media for the best reason of all.
“It feels great to win again,” he said. “I’m back to whole, and apparently the form after the Tour de France isn’t so bad. As long as I can stay off the deck, hopefully more wins can come.”