GENT, Belgium (VN) — This thriving university town in the heart of Flanders has been Tyler Farrar’s home away from home since beginning his European career more than a decade ago.
The Garmin-Sharp sprinter lives in a cozy apartment right in the heart of Gent’s bustling historic center, and he’s trained and raced on the surrounding bergs since turning pro with Cofidis.
“I am not moving,” Farrar told VeloNews with a laugh. “This is my home away from home.”
Also fluent in French and Spanish, the 29-year-old switches effortlessly from English to Flemish in post-race interviews, having picked up the local language during his tenure in Gent. When Farrar goes to sign in before the start of races like E3 Harelbeke, the local fans give him a big cheer.
“I’ve been here for quite a while now. I am not Belgian, but I am about as I am close to it as possible without having the passport,” he said. “This is my home away from home, and I have a lot of friends, and a few supporters.”
After a pair of top-10s over the past week, including second at Dwars door Vlaanderen to win the bunch sprint Wednesday and eighth in Friday’s E3 Harelbeke, Farrar is quietly optimistic about Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem.
“If the legs are as good as Sunday as they were Wednesday and [Friday], I think I have a good shot at it,” Farrar said. “Now the first order of business is recovery.”
On Friday, Farrar finished in the lead chase group featuring big hitters Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), and Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin). He dashed to eighth in the race, taking fourth in the bunch sprint behind race winner Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
“Generally, I am very happy, because I consider Harelbeke too hard for me, especially this year’s course. I definitely surprised myself today,” he said Friday after the race. “The second place at Dwars, that helps the confidence, and it builds on itself. For me in this race, [eighth] that’s a big result.”
A new parcours in E3 Harelbeke, which rerouted the race onto extremely narrow and tight farm roads, created a nervous, crash-marred afternoon.
Dozens of riders were caught up in crashes, and Farrar avoided trouble in the race-changing mash-up with about 40km to go. Barely 20 riders made it through unscathed as the fallen completely blocked the road, fracturing the peloton into a melee of chase groups.
“I just squeaked by it on the side, I was the only guy from our team that made it,” Farrar said. “Sebastian [Langeveld] was the leader today. I was supposed to put him in position for the last few climbs, but once I was on that group, I never once took a pull, I was just hanging on.”
In Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, a sprinter-friendly course that favors his style of racing, Farrar hopes to shine.
“If I can recover,” he said of his chances Sunday. “It’s been a pretty heavy week so far, but the form is even better than I hoped it would be. I took a different approach to the classics this year and I think it’s paying off.”
Farrar has been mixing classics and sprinting since he turned pro in 2006. While many of the U.S. pros racing in Europe settled in Spain’s Girona or around Nice, France, Farrar chose Belgium. He was drawn to the lively mix of students and history in Gent, and knew that the best way to prepare for the classics was to ride and train on the roads just like the Belgians do.
Next week’s Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and Paris-Roubaix will be the next big challenge. He’s already started 17 “monuments” during his career, with a career-best fifth in the 2010 Ronde.
After a strong run in 2009-11, when he emerged as one of the top sprinters in the bunch, winning stages in all three grand tours as well as classics, such as Scheldeprijs and Vattenfall Cyclassics, Farrar has struggled to punch through to victory.
Last fall, he ended a two-year winless drought on European roads with a stage victory at the Eurometropole tour in October.
This year, he tweaked his approach to the classics. His traditional route had gone through Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo, but he skipped both of those Italian races, and instead tackled Paris-Nice for the first time since 2008.
“I skipped Sanremo so I could do a real good taper. Usually I would do Tirreno and Sanremo, straight into the Flemish classics, so this year’s it’s different,” Farrar said. “It was a little nerve-wracking and weird sitting at home during Sanremo, but I am really happy with it so far.”
Farrar and Garmin are hoping the changes continue to pay dividends over the next few weeks.