Tyler Farrar’s current status as road captain on Mark Cavendish’s team would have been unimaginable at the height of their sprint rivalry a few short years ago, but then such are the shifting sands of professional cycling.
Yet while Farrar’s own ambitions as a sprinter have more or less receded since joining Dimension Data (then MTN-Qhubeka) last season, his appetite for the Classics remains unabated.
Resident in Ghent for the past decade, Farrar is fluent in Flemish and has developed a keen understanding, too, of the obscure language of the cobbles. Edvald Boasson Hagen will be Dimension Data’s designated leader in April, but Farrar will be at the heart of anything the team achieves in Flanders.
“The Spring Classics are a giant goal for our team and that was the one goal we didn’t really realise last season, a podium or a win in a big classic,” Farrar told Cyclingnews at the Tour of Qatar this week.
“That’s been in the forefront of my thinking since I started training for the season, to be ready for March and early April in Belgium, and just do everything I can to be there to support Edvald. Classics are crazy races and you never know how they’re going to unfold so you just need to have numbers as best you can in the finales and see how it plays out.”
Farrar has, by his own admission, been a professional bike rider “for a long time now” – so long, in fact, that it is easy to forget that the American is still only 31 years of age. In theory, at least, he ought to be reaching his peak as a Classics rider, and though he never made the breakthrough that seemed imminent in 2010 and 2011, he has shown sustained flashes of his quality on the pavé since, most notably in his final season at Garmin in 2014.
“Under the right circumstances, sure,” Farrar said of his prospects of landing a big win of his own this spring. “As I’ve gotten older, I may not be as fast as I was when I was 25 but I do think I’m stronger. I understand the Classics more every year after another year of doing them, another year of experience, so you never know.
“One of the biggest things in the Classics is to have multiple cards to play, because of that element of chaos in those races. Without a question, Edvald will be our number one leader in the Classics but if you can get three or four guys in that final selection, that’s how you win.”
Though Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen will undoubtedly continue to rage against the dying of the light this spring, there is a sense that the slate of potential winners of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix has widened as their powers have gradually diminished. Where does the Dimension Data triumvirate of Boasson Hagen, Farrar and – injury permitting – Bernhard Eisel fit into the current Classics firmament?
“I don’t know if we’re as strong a team as Etixx, but then realistically, who is?” Farrar said. “But I think we’re strong enough to give Edvald the right kind of support and I think a victory at the Classics is within our reach for sure.”
After competing at the Tour Down Under and Great Ocean Race in Australia last month, Farrar is currently in the Persian Gulf for the Tours of Qatar and Oman, before he fine-tunes his Classics preparation at Paris-Nice. “I usually need to do a lot of racing to find top form so I’m happy with it,” Farrar said.
QuickStep’s success at the Tour of Qatar over the years means that the runes of the race are closely scrutinised for indications of who will emerge triumphant in April. In that light, Boasson Hagen’s displays so far this week certainly augur well, though Farrar warned against making predictions for anyone’s Classics campaign based on results in early February.
“It’s easy to read too much into that,” he said. “The one thing I think is so valuable about this race is that it’s such a battle to get into those splits every day, and not just physically, but on the mental side of things.
“And you see if guys are up there in the front selection every day they’ve obviously put in a good winter and are fit. But at the same time, if a guy isn’t, the Classics are so far away that a talented rider has time to come back to the level he needs to be at, even if he isn’t there now.”