Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) lines up Sunday as defending champion at the Vattenfall Cyclassics in Germany under very different conditions that he did one year ago.
His victory last year confirmed his breakout 2009 campaign, but his road back to Hamburg has been bumpier than he would have liked. The 26-year-old sprinter crashed out of the Tour de France with a broken bone in his hand and took two weeks off the bike to recover, yet he is still hopeful of a strong performance Sunday.
Farrar returned to competition at the Tour of Denmark earlier this month and now embarks on the decisive final part of his successful season that includes the Vuelta a España and the world championships in Australia.
VeloNews caught up with Farrar from his home base in Belgium to talk Vattenfall, the Tour and his hopes of winning the rainbow jersey. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews: This weekend is the Vattenfall Cyclassics, what are your expectations as defending champion?
Tyler Farrar: It’s a little different going in as the guy who won last year. I’ve had a different run than last year. Last year I had finished the Tour, recovered, rode a few criteriums and just kind of popped up. I kind of shocked myself last year at Hamburg, to tell the truth. This year is very different; getting hurt at the Tour and taking a break. It’s a different preparation.
VN: Vattenfall was your first major one-day victory, what does the race mean to you?
TF: It’s still one of my sweetest victories. It used to be a World Cup, it’s a one-day classic. It’s one of the brightest stars on my palmares. I am quite motivated to go back and do it again. I had good sensations in Denmark and I think my fitness is good. I will have Murilo Fischer and Julian Dean to help me. I want to do well.
VN: How were the sensations in your return to racing at the Tour of Denmark?
TF: It was pretty encouraging, with the wrist healing up. It’s now just an annoyance instead of pain. It’s going in the right direction and it was good to race at Denmark to get moving again. I took two full weeks off the bike after the Tour, so before racing I was only the bike for five days. It served its purpose. I’ve done the Tour of Denmark two times now. It’s a great race. There are a lot of bike racing fans up there.
Surviving the Tour
VN: The Tour de France didn’t go as you would have liked. How do you reflect now on the race?
TF: My Tour was basically a train wreck. I felt like I did everything right coming into it. The condition was good, the training was dialed. I did a really good prologue for me at that distance. Everything looked really positive, but it just went into a downward spiral from there. It’s really disappointing, but at the same time, I guess it makes me hungrier for the rest of the season. Maybe I will have that little extra motivation going into the final part of the season. Up until the Tour, every goal I had set during the winter I was ticking them off the list. I still managed a second and a third with a broken wrist. That’s what’s really frustrating. That’s one of those questions, what could I have done if I was 100 percent? That’s a question that will have to wait until next year, I guess.
VN: What was the fall-out from the crash in stage 2?
TF: I smashed the hell out of my entire left side of my body. I had a massive hematoma on my left elbow that swelled up like a balloon. I had a micro-fracture in one of the bones that connects my hand to my wrest. I had some tendon and ligament damage. As soon as I stopped, I saw a specialist in Belgium and got everything checked. There was nothing so bad I needed surgery. The doctor told me to take a big chunk of time off to let it have a full recovery. Especially considering I raced another 10 days at 5 to 6 hours a day racing in the Tour didn’t help. It was the longest break I’ve ever taken off the bike in the middle of the season. I would never voluntarily take two weeks off the bike. It was really a bummer, but I hope it’s a blessing in disguise, and I can be a little fresher at the end of the season.
VN: Can you describe what the crash was like?
TF: It was carnage down that descent in the rain. The motorbike had spilled oil on the road. It happened in an instant. I crashed twice. I got caught in a huge pileup when everyone went down. By then, I was just going slow, trying to pick my way down the descent. It was so bizarre, because when I crashed, I don’t think I was going 25-30kph. Sometimes those slow-speed crashes are worse, because you don’t slide, you just impact with all your weight on the ground. It reminded me of when I’m training in the winter in Washington and you get a little too high and you hit the black ice that’s on the road. It was exactly the same thing. The next thing, you’re on the ground.
VN: So now you’re racing without pain in the wrist?
TF: It’s going to be a bit of annoyance from now until the end of the season. I will probably have to tape it up every day, but at least it’s not excruciating pain. I still don’t know how I made it through the Tour as long as I did. And to have the cobblestones the day after my crash. That was one of the days I had targeted coming into the Tour. Instead, I had to sit up when we got to the first cobblestones section and let everyone go ahead of me. I rode them one-handed. There was no way I could hold onto the handlebars on the cobbles.
VN: Later, you were able to contend for the sprints, finishing second and third, were you surprised you were able to make it as far as you did?
TF: It was kind of bittersweet. If you crash out, well, you’re out. You think, OK, well, there’s nothing you can do about it. When it’s one of those injuries, you try to continue, you try to fight on, try to convince yourself that you’re going make it to Paris. I was still able to pop in a few good results. The mountains just undid me. I thought the sprint days would be hard on my wrist, but it turned out that 30km downhill, riding the brakes through the switchbacks, that just beat me down. The tank was empty after two weeks.
Vuelta and worlds
VN: Looking ahead to later this month, what are you hopes for the Vuelta?
TF: The first goal is to try to win a stage. I did it last year, so I hope I can again. The goal this year was to have a crack at winning a stage in all three grand tours. I got two at the Giro and the Tour didn’t work out as we hoped. That doesn’t change anything for the Vuelta. Because I didn’t finish the Giro or the Tour, I’d also like to ride to the end of the Vuelta. The worlds is a big priority and after two weeks, I am feeling burned out, if I am dead, I will not ruin a shot at the worlds just to finish the Vuelta.
VN: The course doesn’t look that easy, especially in the first week, how many sprint opportunities do you think there will be?
TF: There might not be many sprints in that first week. From my first impression of looking at the road book is that the Vuelta this year isn’t one of the typical grand tour format. It’s a sprint one day, then a mountain stage, then a hilly stage. It’s quite a mix-match of stages and that will make it interesting. There should be quite a few sprints in the last week, so that’s another motivator to stay in the race longer.
VN: So the Vuelta is the ideal world’s preparation for you?
TF: I did it last year for the first time and it worked out well. It’s pretty hard to re-create that level of intensity anywhere else. That’s what you need running into the worlds. There are other races, but it’s not the same as a grand tour. That’s where you find your best form.
VN: Speaking of worlds, have you seen the Australian course yet?
TF: No, I haven’t, but I have talked to just about everyone who has. The world’s are quite a big priority for me this season. From what I hear about it, I think it’s a lot harder that people are saying. Just from what I’ve been able to piece together, it sounds pretty tough. There’s a hard climb and if the tactics play out, it could be a sprint from a small to medium-sized group. That’s ideal for me as well.
VN: Did you get a chance to inspect the 2011 world’s course when you were in Denmark?
TF: We did. I love it. I think it’s a really good course for me. I think it’s going to be a sprint with a fairly decent-sized group, especially if we can get lucky and it’s dry up there, which is not easy that time of year in Denmark. It’s not a hard course compared to some of the other worlds courses we’ve had. The sprint won’t be easy. It’s going to be on the limit for the true sprinters. The finish drags uphill just enough to see the pure sprinters blowing out in the final 100 meters. With 500 meters to go, I guess it’s a 4 percent drag to the finish. I like it, even for me it’s on the limit. If it’s fast and I’m on a good day, it’s ideal for me, even though last 100 meters will really hurt.
VN: Any racing after the worlds?
TF: The only race after the worlds that suits me is Paris-Tours. If I race worlds, and then fly all the way back to Europe, I will be so jet-lagged that I wouldn’t be much of a contender. I’ve never been to Australia before. I think we’re going to stay after the worlds and be tourists for awhile.