A full complement of sprinters line up on Tuesday for the Tour of Oman, but while Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda) is among their number, the American admitted that at this point of the season his mindset is that of a classics rider rather than a pure fastman.
Based in Ghent and a fluent Flemish speaker, Farrar is equally proficient at negotiating the nuances of training in his adopted homeland. He understands that the slate grey days of the Belgian midwinter are better suited to tempering one’s steel for the cobbled classics rather than sharpening speed for the bunch sprints. That said, Farrar surprised himself by marrying sharpness to endurance at last week’s Tour of Qatar, where finished a solid second overall.
“I’ve done very little sprint training, so I didn’t expect to be flying there. Now after Qatar, hopefully it’ll be a little bit better,” Farrar told Cyclingnews in Bandar Jissah on Monday. “But living where I live in winter, it’s not realistic to really be doing a lot of sprint training. I’ve been focused on my power and on being ready for the classics. The sprint will come around in the next few months, and once we get through Paris-Roubaix, then I’ll focus 100% on the sprint training."
Over the years, racing in the Arabian Peninsula in February has slowly become an essential part of the classics contender’s preparation. Alternatives may not be lacking on the Old Continent, but Farrar pointed out that this year’s extreme weather in Europe meant that coming to Qatar and Oman was even more important than normal.
“If you get lucky on a year and have good weather for Mallorca or Algarve, that’s also good, but then when the weather is like it’s been in Europe this year, then I think you’re better off to be here than anywhere else,” Farrar said.
When the classics roll around, Farrar’s primary goal will be Gent-Wevelgem, where he finished third in 2011. However, he ruefully admitted that in spite of his emotional attachment to the race, the changes to the route of the Tour of Flanders means that his dreams of Ronde victory may have to be put on hold indefinitely.
“I always say Flanders is my favourite race in the world, but especially with the new course I don’t think it’s the one for me. It’s significantly harder now,” Farrar said. “So I think my personal target will be Gent-Wevelgem. Of the bigger classics, that’s the one that suits me and my characteristics best.”
The “Dream Team” era
With the galacticos of BMC and the newly-merged RadioShack-Nissan squads devouring the column inches this early-season, Farrar and his Garmin teammates should enjoy a significantly calmer build-up to the classics than they did twelve months ago.
Following Garmin’s assimilation of a platoon of classics riders from the defunct Cervélo TestTeam last year, much was expected of a star-studded line up that included then world champion Thor Hushovd. While Johan Van Summeren’s Paris-Roubaix victory ensured that the spring balance sheet was ultimately a positive one, the team was not without its teething problems and endured some degree of criticism.
“It was a new group and it just took us a while to get to know each other,” Farrar recalled. “We made mistakes during the first races, but as the classics progressed we got things more ironed out. We definitely screwed up a few times last year and didn’t maximise the potential of the team we had, but the other thing is that the media blows everything so out of proportion.”
With that in mind, Farrar allows himself a wry grin when he considers the attention being heaped upon BMC at the dawn of the new season. In an era where rolling news is increasingly championed over measured analysis, expectations can rapidly spiral out of control.
“Just because you have strong riders doesn’t mean you’re going to win every classic,” Farrar pointed out. “There was so much hype over the winter last year leading into the season that it was basically a case of if we didn’t sweep the podium in every classic, it was going to be like we’d failed somehow. That’s not realistic.
“It’s funny because I see the same thing happening now to BMC. Guaranteed they’re going to win big races with the riders they have, but they’re not going to win every race. It’s a snowball effect in the press and all of a sudden it can create unrealistic expectations.”