Tyler Farrar said this week that he is properly prepared and ready to find out if this is the year his legs can carry him over the Poggio with the lead group and give him a chance for a top result at Milan-San Remo.
“I've never made it over the Poggio at the front before,” said Farrar, who is in Italy preparing for the 106th edition of La Classicissima after wrapping up Tirreno-Adriatico on Tuesday. “So obviously it's a bit of an unknown for me if maybe this is the year I can climb well enough to make it. That would be nice, but we'll see on the day how the race is going and how everybody is feeling.”
The Garmin-Sharp sprinter has raced Milan-San Remo four times previously, finishing 42nd, 46th and 109th after abandoning the race during his first attempt in 2009. But the list of past winners for the season's first Monument is dotted with the names of many of the sport's top sprinters, and Farrar would obviously like to add his own name to that roll. But you either have the legs to pull it off or you don't, Farrar said, and on Sunday he'll find out which is the case for himself this year.
“It really just comes down to legs in the final hour of the race,” Farrar told Cyclingnews. “It's 300km, so it's really long and guys kind of start coming apart at the seams when they hit the final climbs. The good guys come to the front, and the guys who don't have the legs tend to go away.”
Despite a relatively rough start for Garmin-Sharp this year, including the theft of some team bikes at the Tour Mediterranean and several weather-related cancellations on the European calendar, Farrar said he has had a “pretty smooth” early season build-up for the classics.
“I wasn't at Tour of Med, so my bikes didn't get stolen,” Farrar said, although he did miss Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne when it was canceled because of snow. “I had a pretty good program with Tour Down Under, Majorca, Ruta del Sol, and then a little hiccup with Kuurne on the opening weekend, so I think for me, personally, it's been a really nice, smooth prep for the season and everything has gone exactly as I'd hoped.”
That preparation culminated this week with Tirreno-Adriatico, where Farrar finished 62nd on the now-infamous Porto Sant'Elpidio stage, coming in nearly 10 minutes behind winner Peter Sagan (Cannondale). More than 50 riders abandoned the stage, and the race organizer later apologized for the route's difficulty.
“I think that is probably my record for the steepest road I've ever ridden a bike up, or certainly the steepest road I've ever raced a bike up,” Farrar said. “In addition to the three times up the crazy, super-steep 30 per cent climb, there were several other climbs on that circuit that were up in the 20s, so it was a tough day for sure. To be honest, I think it would make an awesome one-day race.”
The squad Garmin-Sharp is sending to Milan-San Remo will be a mix of the Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico rosters. Farrar will join Jack Bauer, Alex Howes, Robert Hunter, David Millar, Ramunas Navardauskas, Johan Vansummeren and Fabian Wegmann on the start line Sunday. That's a lot of firepower, but Farrar knows that it's up to him to be there in the finale if the race comes down to a sprint.
“The team can help put a sprinter in good position coming into the bottom of the climbs,” Farrar said. “That's really crucial, but then it's just suffer and hope you make it over.”
After Farrar makes it over the Poggio and Milan-San Remo, he'll take four days to recover and prepare for E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke on March 22. Then he hopes to hit Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders and Scheldeprijs before ending his classics campaign with Paris-Roubaix. Farrar said Wevelgem suits him well and will be a big goal, but he'll likely be supporting teammates like Johan Vansummeren in Flanders and Roubaix. But either way, Farrar said, he'll be going full gas for all his races.
“You don't go into any of the classics at half speed,” he said. “You take every one very seriously, and that's the beauty of the classics. You come into every one completely fresh, and you can dedicate all your energy to it. The goal is to ride well over the next four weeks and hopefully get a few results for myself and some good results for the team.”
After Paris-Roubaix the plan is for Farrar to start shifting back into Grand Tour sprinter mode, including a possible start at the Amgen Tour of California in May as part of his Tour de France preparation.
But for now he's focused on Sunday's race, and like many others he's picking Sagan as the hands-down favorite. Farrar said the Slovakian rider can win from breakaways or a bunch sprint, and his versatility makes him a very dangerous rider. But Farrar was also careful to point out that many others have looked good so far this season, and the race is obviously still wide open.
“That's the thing about one-day races,” he said. “It's all about having the legs that day and the luck. There's always an element of surprise to it, even for the riders themselves.”