Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) is hoping to end a two-year winless streak in Europe with a victory this month at the Vuelta a España.
The American sprinter is racing his first grand tour of the 2013 season, and has not won an individual stage on European pavement since 2011, when he won stage 3 in the Tour de France on the Fourth of July.
“It would be huge for me,” Farrar told VeloNews what a win would mean to him during this Vuelta. “Since I ended up not going to the Tour, I really wanted to show myself in a grand tour this season. [Winning a stage] that’s the goal.”
When asked why he did not race the Tour, Farrar replied: “The team had a different focus. They wanted to focus more on the mountain stages … I am not the man in charge.”
Farrar, 29, should have plenty of chances over the next few stages to test his mettle against a mixed field of sprinters here at this Vuelta.
A mountainous parcours, with no less than 11 uphill finales, coupled with an equally climber-friendly world championships in Florence, has seen many of the top sprinters steer clear of this year’s Spanish tour.
Farrar is keen to make the most of the sprints.
“It’s a hard Vuelta. I think it scared a few guys off,” Farrar said. “If you’re willing to suffer, I think there are a fair number of stages for the sprinters during this Vuelta. I think we could see five or six sprints. It’s not like we’re sprinting every day, but there is a decent number of chances for sprints.”
After four wild and explosive days of racing across Galicia, sprinters and stage-hunters will have opportunities over the next several days.
In fact, the first chance could come in Wednesday’s fifth stage ending in Lagos de Sanabria. The 174.3-kilometer route features two third-category climbs mid-race that should turn the stage into a battle between the sprinter teams and the breakaway artists.
The final 5km into the finish features a small rise with 3km to go before flattening out, and even dipping slightly downhill under the red kite.
That should present Farrar with his first opportunity of what he expects to be several in the middle part of this Vuelta.
Unfortunately for Farrar, his top leadout man, Koldo Fernández, crashed out during the team time trial and did not start Sunday’s second stage. Another key man for the leadouts, Michel Kreder, also crashed in the TTT, and has been hobbling with bumps and bruises. Alex Rasmussen and Johan Van Summeren will do their best to position Farrar for the mass gallops.
Whether Farrar will have the kick to win remains to be seen.
“I think I have the form to win a stage. I’ve done a good block of racing, in Denmark and the Eneco Tour,” he continued. “I haven’t won a lot of stages in some of the big races, so I am really looking forward to it.”
Farrar has been knocking on the door all season long. His lone victory came at the Amgen Tour of California, when he out-kicked Ken Hanson (Optum-Kelly Benefits) and Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) in Santa Barbara in stage 4.
He’s had no less than 11 top-3s, with near misses at such races as the Tour de Suisse, the Eneco Tour, and the Tour of Denmark, but he has not won a race in Europe in more than two years.
That’s a long time for a sprinter by any measure, and Farrar admits he’s keen to get a big win during this Vuelta.
Despite some of the top sprinters such as Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma), Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano), and André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) all steering clear of the mountainous Vuelta, there are still some quality sprinters in the pack.
Riders such as Greg Henderson (Lotto), Omega Pharma’s Meersman and Andrew Fenn, Orica-GreenEdge’s Leigh Howard and Michael Matthews, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), Lucas Haedo (Cannondale), Graeme Brown (Belkin), and the still winless world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) will all be throwing elbows to win a stage.
After a breakout season in 2009, Farrar emerged as one of the top bunch sprinters during 2010 and 2011, going toe-to-toe with Cavendish to become the lone American to officially win stages in all three grand tours.
A string of crashes, including a season-ending concussion last year, coupled with the tragic death of his training partner and friend Wouter Weylandt in the 2011 Giro and the departure of former leadout man Julian Dean that same season, all added up to see Farrar struggle to find wins over the past two seasons.
In a lengthy interview with VeloNews at the beginning of the season, Farrar refused to blame anyone but himself.
“The leadout wasn’t my problem last year,” Farrar said in February. “In the first part of the year, I was simply not sprinting fast enough. I hadn’t trained for sprinting in the winter and I was totally focused on the classics. I lost some speed. It was a very frustrating year. When I focused back on sprinting, I crashed a lot, spent a lot of time coming back from injury. You’re always playing catch-up at that point.”
So far through this Vuelta, Farrar survived the tough hilly country of Galicia, and now it’s his chance to step to center stage.
Thursday’s stage to Cáceres and Friday’s into Sevilla also present opportunities for Farrar to get back into the win column.
And he has another reason to be extra-motivated; he still has not signed a contract for next season.
“My contract is up this year, so I do not know what I am doing. There’s no news yet,” he said. “Right now I’m trying to focus on the Vuelta, and I’m not worrying about it.”
A win this week would not only get the monkey off Farrar’s back, but it would help ease the way toward job security for the next few years.