TARRAGONA, Spain (VN) — The form is there, and so is the team support. What’s missing for Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) is a stage profile that fits his style of racing.
A mountainous Vuelta, with no less than 11 uphill finishes, scared away most of the peloton’s top sprinters. Thursday’s 12th stage looked like a sprinter’s delight, but a finish-line kicker surprised the sprinter teams, opening the door for Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) to win his first race of the season in the rainbow jersey.
“They’re all uphill finishes!” Farrar said in exasperation at the finish line. “In the book it look likes nothing, but that was a one, one-and-a-half K climb to the finish. It was harder than we thought it would be.”
So far in this Vuelta, there have only been three stages ending in mass sprints. Farrar’s been getting close, but so far, luck has not fallen his way.
The first sprint came in stage 5 after a very narrow finishing straight at Lagos de Sanabria. Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) got his debut grand tour win, with Farrar crossing the line fifth.
The next day in Cáceres ended in the frenetic finale, with Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) getting caught 15 yards from the finish line and Michael Morkov (Saxo-Tinkoff) coming off Fabian Cancellara’s (RadioShack-Leopard) wheel to take a photo finish win. Farrar crossed the line fourth, within inches of the win.
The following stage into Sevilla, Farrar punctured with 12 kilometers to go and then his teammate Daniel Martin crashed on a technical urban circuit that was later widely criticized by the peloton. Farrar could not regain contact and did not contest the sprint.
Farrar survived three climbing stages across the hot mountains of southern Spain and entered Thursday’s stage motivated to go for the win.
Those hopes quickly evaporated when the peloton roared onto the final finishing straight only to find a long, surprisingly steep hill looking them in the eye.
“Frustrating? Oh, of course. I am enjoying the Vuelta, but I am frustrated that the results have not been better,” Farrar continued. “The team was perfect. It was too hard for me. I was on Gilbert’s wheel, he seemed boxed in, but he found a way out. Alex [Rasmussen] put me in perfect position with 2km to go.”
Farrar came with ambition of winning his first European race in two seasons, but the climber’s paradise course at the Vuelta is making it difficult for him to have a chance to show his stuff.
Farrar’s last win on European roads came at the 2011 Tour de France. Since then, despite some close calls in Europe, he’s won only in North America. After skipping both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, Farrar came to this Vuelta motivated to score a big win.
Time is running out in this Vuelta for the sprinters.
Friday’s stage into Tarragona features a brutally steep first-category climb in the final 50km that will surely spit out the likes of Farrar and the other sprinters.
After that are three hard climbing stages across the Pyrénées ahead of the second rest day. Stage 17 into Burgos looks, at least in the road book, like it will be a mass sprint. The question will be which teams will have the legs and sprinters still in the race to chase down a breakaway.
“I think Burgos will be a sprint. It would be really nice to have one that’s flat in the last five K all the way to the line,” Farrar said. “I feel like I’ve been getting better and better as the race has gone on. I am not happy about today, hopefully I can do better at Burgos.”
After Burgos, there are more punishingly hard climbing stages across Asturias, including the brutally steep climb up the Anglirú on the penultimate stage.
Will Farrar suffer through the entire Vuelta to have a final shot on the Paseo de Castellano in Madrid?
“For sure. I might end up waiting to Madrid to get a normal sprint,” he said. “It’s not over yet. I’ve been trying, we’ll see, hopefully it will come together soon.”
Just as Gilbert discovered Thursday, one big win can erase all the pressure of an entire season. Farrar’s hoping to have that chance before this Vuelta is out.