SAN LUIS, Argentina (VN) — Looking fit and trim, American Tyler Farrar has come to the Tour de San Luis knowing that he has much to prove in 2014, and that he’ll likely be doing it on his own on a revamped Garmin-Sharp squad that is focused on GC ambitions.
A veteran member of a team that replaced almost half of its roster during the offseason, Farrar, 29, is a throwback on Garmin-Sharp, one of five riders to have been part of the Slipstream Sports team since its first major overhaul, back in 2008. (The others are David Millar, Tom Danielson, Dan Martin, and Ryder Hesjedal.)
In fact, of Garmin’s six-man squad in Argentina, only Danielson and Farrar are returning riders; Janier Acevedo, Ben King, Nathan Brown and Phil Gaimon are all new recruits in the team’s first year racing at San Luis.
While he’s traditionally started his season at the Santos Tour Down Under, Farrar came to San Luis fresh off a productive offseason, having spent time training in Maui and Florida, fully aware that, in order to gain support from the team in field sprints, he’ll first need to prove that he can again ride at the level that he did during the 2009-11 seasons.
During that three-season stretch Farrar took stage wins at all three grand tours; he also registered one-day victories at Vattenfall Cyclassics and Scheldeprijs, and notched podium finishes at Ghent-Wevelgem, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and Dwars door Vlaanderen.
In 2012 and 2013, Farrar’s only sprint victories came racing in the U.S., in California and Colorado, and against second-caliber sprint fields.
It was for this reason that Garmin manager Jonathan Vaughters held off on renewing Farrar’s contract until late in the 2013 season, after Farrar finished off the year with second on the final stage of the Vuelta a España and a fourth-place at Paris-Tours. For the first time in his career, Farrar had been unsure whether he’d be racing at the UCI WorldTour level the following year.
“There is some pressure, but it’s a healthy pressure,” Farrar said. “It can help you train harder, and perform better, you just have to use that stress in the right way.”
Vaughters kept Farrar in argyle, but with South African Robbie Hunter now a team director, there is no dedicated Garmin leadout man for Farrar to help navigate his way through the peloton in the closing kilometers of a sprint stage.
Farrar will get his first taste of hopping wheels through the sprints in San Luis, where there are three sprint stages on tap, and names like Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Francisco Ventoso (Movistar), Danilo Hondo (Trek Factory Racing) and J.J. Haedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) also fighting to start the new season with a victory.
In theory, Cavendish should have an armchair ride to the finish line, with Omega Pharma teammates Tom Boonen and Alessandro Petacchi providing shelter and guidance.
“I’ll be freelancing the sprints here, and that will be the story all season,” Farrar said. “The priorities at Garmin have shifted, it’s a GC team now, but that’s OK. I can bop around in the sprints. I’ve been racing long enough that I know how to work off other teams. Omega Pharma has an insane leadout train here, so everyone else will be queuing off of them. There is no other team here that can challenge them in the final kilometers.”
After Argentina, Farrar will head to the Tour of Dubai, and later, the cobbled classics and the Giro d’Italia.
“The spring classics are still important to the team, and we still have Johan [Vansummeren], Sebastian Langeveld and Nick Nuyens,” he said. “And I am down to ride the Giro, which is important for me, there are a lot of sprint stages this year, and I want to ride well there.”
Should he start proving that he’s capable of winning again, Farrar said the team has a few riders capable of providing quality sprint leadouts, namely Millar and Ramunas Navardauskus, as well as Steele Von Hoff, who took the Australian national criterium title earlier this month.
“I will have to fend for myself in sprint races, I get that,” Farrar said. “The last few years haven’t been my best. Things started to click again at the end of last season. The Vuelta was better, and I had a good run during the last few weeks of 2013, I was close to being at my best, to my old level.”
Not yet, 30, Farrar finds himself in the unenviable situation of having to prove that he is still capable of winning, with less support than in years past, on a team filled with young climber types eager to leave their own stamp on the sport.
“The priorities are in climbing and GC at Garmin these days,” Farrar said. “It’s nice being on a team focused on sprints, but I don’t think my performance has warranted that kind of focus. Until I can show consistency racing at the highest level, I won’t have that support. I know how to race without help, or with reduced help, you know which trains to look towards. And if you start the season well, and win races, the support starts coming back.”
Farrar will attempt to start cultivating that support in San Luis, but against Cavendish, Sagan, and the others, it won’t be easy. Then again, field sprinting never is.