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Tyler Farrar: Gunning for the spring classics

Garmin-Cervélo’s Tyler Farrar hasn’t featured prominently in the first two field sprints Down Under, but that shouldn’t be read as a predictor of how his 2011 season might develop.

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Garmin-Cervelo's Tyler Farrar readies for the 2011 Cancer Council Classic. | Photo: Graham Watson

Garmin-Cervélo’s Tyler Farrar hasn’t featured prominently in the first two field sprints Down Under, but that shouldn’t be read as a predictor of how his 2011 season might develop.

Racing the Santos Tour Down Under for the first time in his career, Farrar placed 18th in Sunday’s Cancer Council Classic, and 59th on Tuesday’s opening TDU stage. But just as he has every year since he joined the European peloton in 2006, the American sprinter is focusing on the spring classics and grand tour field sprints.

Unlike years past, however, in 2011 Garmin-Cervélo will have a solid lead-out train, featuring riders like Julian Dean, Brett Lancaster, Murilo Fischer and David Millar, as well as other viable sprint options. The late-summer merger of the Garmin and Cervélo squads brought the heart of Cervélo’s classics squads to the American team: world champion Thor Hushovd, a two-time green jersey winner, and Heinrich Haussler, who finished as runner-up at Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders in 2009.

In the days after the announcement, Garmin manager Jonathan Vaughters, who rode alongside Hushovd at Crédit Agricole from 2000 to 2002, clarified the roles his two biggest stars would play, telling VeloNews, “Thor and Tyler are different types of sprinters. Thor can survive hearty mountain stages, and he excels on hard, uphill finishes; Tyler is really fast. I think they are very compatible. If Thor were six or seven years younger, like when he was quick sprinter, it might be different. But now he’s really strong, he time trials well, and he’s proven at one-day races that are 260km long, and with climbs. Tyler is pure speed. I think they complement each other, rather than supplement each other.”

As for Haussler, his 2011 forecast is uncertain after losing much of the 2010 season to a knee injury that required surgery. “Heinrich is on a bit of a comeback year,” Vaughters said. “He wants to come in the season hot, and he is probably our best guy for the Tour of Flanders. But first we have to make sure he is back to full form.”

At a team camp in December, VeloNews sat down with Farrar find out where he’ll be racing in 2011, how the sprint-heavy roster will affect the team’s GC riders, and why he and Hushovd won’t turn into another Greipel/Cavendish intrasquad feud. At the Tour Down Under this week, Anthony Tan touched base with Farrar for the video interview on this page.

Q. As soon as the merger of the two teams was announced, the big question on everyone’s minds was how you and Thor Hushovd would work out the sprints. It’s clear you’re different types of sprinters, but it would be good to hear in your words how it’s going to work out.
A. When you look at it, there is the potential for things to go really poorly. You saw that on another big team with big sprinters, and it turned into a little feud within the team. We don’t want that at all. Thor and I are both pretty easygoing guys. That’s going to be a huge reason why I don’t see us having the issues that could have arisen out of this. We have different characteristics, but neither of us is the kind of guy that’s going to refuse to ride for someone else. We both want the team to be successful. We’re both professional, and if our best chances for being successful are to ride for me one day, we’ll ride for me, and if it’s to ride for Thor another day, we’ll ride for Thor, and if it’s to ride for Heinrich, we’ll ride for Heinrich.

Q. How and when are these decisions made? Are they made before the start of a race? Two hours from the finish? Thirty minutes before the finish?
A. Well, you start the race with strategy, but you also have to adapt to how people feel, and how the race is unfolding. If you look at the year in a more global sense, there are a lot of races on the calendar. It’s not like we’ll be running one program all season. We’re going to have guys all over, so for a lot of the year, we’ll have a sprinter in good shape racing to win in one place, and another, also in good shape, somewhere else. That gets us more victories, and therefore more publicity for the sponsors, so it’s a good thing. And then we’ll come together at the big races, and it will depend on how people are riding in the run up to it, and the characteristics of the day. We’ll sit down and talk, and Matt White will tell us what he thinks is our best chance for the win, that day. If things go to plan, that’s what we’ll do, and if we have to make some adjustments on the fly, we’ve all been riders for a while, I think we all know how to handle that.

Q. So you are the more explosive sprinter, and Thor can get over climbs and is a little better in the uphill sprints — that might solve the question of the finishes. But Thor is also a classics rider, and you were fifth at the Tour of Flanders last year and won a stage of De Panne and also at Scheldeprijs. You’ve got a lot of years to still improve in the classics, but those races are also a bit of a lottery and you only get so many chances. What’s your take on the classics?
A. Obviously the team merger is going to change the way we approach races, for everyone. But the big thing in the classics is numbers — having the strongest team, having as many guys in your team in the final selection in the last hour as possible. The stronger your team is as a whole, the better off everyone is. It’s better to have four guys that are pretty good in the front group instead one guy that is really good and there’s no one to help him.

And I think we’re going to see the situation this year where we have several really good guys, and it will just come down to which races Thor wants to target, which races I want to target, and which races Heinrich wants to target. Obviously Paris-Roubaix for Thor is priority one for next season, and that’s awesome. He’s been on the podium there twice, and I’m really happy to try and help him win that.

2010 Burnaby 4-Day, Tyler Farrar
Farrar tuned up for the road season on the track in Burnaby, B.C. last month

I have been developing as a classics rider, but I haven’t had the opportunity the last few years, we had such a young classics team, we never had the chance to ride with someone riding Flanders or Roubaix for the ninth or tenth time in their career. So bringing Thor into the program, and guys like Andreas Klier and Roger Hammond, those guys have a wealth of knowledge I think I can profit from down the road, not just this year. We each have our characteristics, and some days I hope to be able to go for my shot at winning in the classics, other days we’re putting our eggs in Thor’s basket. The other side of the classics is that they are a lottery. If you have the wrong luck at the wrong time, it doesn’t matter how good you are, your race is over. We have the luxury now that if that happens, we have back-up plans in place.

Q. The depth of the classics squad should also open the door for riders like Roger Hammond, Johan Van Summeren, Martijn Maaskant, and even David Millar.
A. It’s all numbers, and if you get four guys in a group of 30 in the last hour of a race, that’s an ideal situation, you can just start sending guys up the road, and eventually one of them sticks. I doubt anyone would have picked Servais Knaven in December as the guy to win the 2001 Paris-Roubaix, but that’s how team tactics unfold sometimes. You have to be on the strongest team to do that. I really think on paper we are the strongest classics team in the world. There’s always a difference between being the strongest on paper and the strongest on the road, and that’s our responsibility, to make it happen

Q. What’s your ideal 2011 race schedule?
A. I’ve got a rough plan, and the first objective of the year is the spring classics, like always. That means my goal is to come in from Milan-San Remo through Paris-Roubaix at 100-percent top form. I want this team to win one of monuments this year. That’s what we are capable of, so I don’t see why we can’t have that as our objective. Whether that’s me or Thor or another rider, I want to see a Garmin-Cervélo rider do that. After that, it’s that tipping point in my season. I spend the winter in classics preparation, and then transition into stage racing and sprinting mode. The plan as of now is to go Giro-Tour again, but we’re still holding out to see about the Tour of California, it’s a particularly hard Giro this year, and we’ll see just what the stages in Cali look like, as far as sprint stages go. But with me and Thor and Heinrich, we can send one of best sprinters in the world to Cali and to the Giro. Which one that will be remains to be seen.

Q. With all this focus on the sprints and the classics, will the GC be taking a backseat on this team in 2011?
A. I don’t see it taking anything away from the GC. The reason there is such an emphasis on the classics is because, one, we probably have the strongest classics team in the world, and two, because they come first in the season. So just going by dates, they are the first big objective. You break the season down, and if you are already worrying about the Tour over the winter, that’s a long way out to be focusing and stressing on something. You just take it one step at a time, and that first step is the spring classics. Of course everyone is thinking about the Tour, and after April is done, then we’ll make the big transition in the team and start addressing the GC racing. For the big GC guys, the Giro and the Tour of California are the first rendezvous, so that’s not until May, there’s plenty of time to get everything dialed in.

Q. You’ve won stages at the Giro and Vuelta, and other big races like Vattenfall Cyclassics and Scheldeprijs. If you could pick one race to win in 2011, (other than the world championships), what would it be — a Tour stage? A classic?
A. That’s a popular question that I never know the answer to. Wins don’t come so easily in pro cycling. You can’t just say ‘I want this win.’ There are so many huge races, and each one is so hard to win. Winning a stage of the Tour would be a highlight of the year. Winning a classic would be a highlight of the year. I would say my single favorite race of the year is the Tour of Flanders, that’s a special day for me every season, but I’m not even sure at this point in my career if that is a race I can win. I think I may have three more years of development before that’s a reality. I’ll take what I can get, basically. (Laughs). I have my objectives. I know the races that I want to target. But I’m not a person that likes to make big proclamations. I don’t want to fall in that trap and announce the race you’re going for. But so many things can happen. Look at the Tour de France last year. That was my really big goal, everything went right in training, I came into it with best form I possibly could have, and I never even got a chance to truly challenge a sprint. I was either breaking my bike or breaking my body. There are so many things beyond your control. So I prefer to speak quietly, and then have a big celebration, rather than speak loudly and then quietly retreat.