Battling Buddhist back.
Who needed a big win more than any rider in the US Pro Cycling Challenge? It’s been bone-dry for Garmin-Sharp’s Tyler Farrar for over a year, July 4th in France during the 2011 Tour de France, to be exact. Trop, c’est trop.
Since then its been a disastrous and painful run. Like Farrar was some argyle crash test dummy. The first part of his season was a failed experiment — Farrar as classics rider, powering over the cobblestones, speaking fluent Flemish and nailing a high placing. His Flemish is excellent but the results were nonexistent and came with a terrible price tag — the loss of his high-end sprinter speed.
Then he came to France, Le Grand Shindig, turbo finally returning, only to spend a frightening amount of time lying on the road. Whenever there was a crash, he was tops on the accident report. He seemed snake-bit, unable to stay upright and the skittishness and mounting injuries only compounded the problem. He staggered to Paris in several pieces, physically and mentally destroyed.
But that misery was washed away in the rain as he managed to crawl over Lizard Pass on the way to the finish in the ski resort town of Telluride. A story goes that the town name is a sly contraction of To Hell You Ride. You could argue that Farrar has already been down that road several times.
Garmin owed stage one from Durango to Telluride with Tom Danielson shocking his rivals with a furious dice roll. Tommy D set the stage on fire despite the rain that drizzled then dumped then backed off. Danielson and Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas jumped after barely ten k and took five minutes before the peloton woke up.
Farrar sat biding his time and praying the whole thing might come back together. He said he turned himself “inside out” to get over Lizard Pass and when they finally pulled back Danielson and teammate Peter Stetina on the outskirts of Telluride, fortune began to turn.
Pro athletes are determined and almost psychotic optimists. Just part of the sports psychology mindset. Farrar likes to use the word “hopefully” almost to exhaustion. During the Tour de France it appeared that Farrar — and his auto-pilot optimism — might finally have cracked. When a sprinter from Argos Shimano cut him off, Farrar went certifiably berserk, storming to the Argos bus with intent to kill. He was physically restrained and escorted away.
He bottomed out.
Now, he is thousands of miles away and more than a mile high. Farrar is a nice guy who doesn’t make bold or cocky statements. He’s a student of Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy and doesn’t belong to the Angry Young Sprinters Club. He began the day in Durango, “hopeful” and as he hit those final kilometers he was “hopefully” in a position to win.
Perhaps no other sport makes such a visible and visceral display of the highs and lows we all experience in life. No matter whether you are Alberto Contador or Bradley Wiggins or Mark Cavendish. The mountains are towering and the lows are rock bottom and hit at astonishing speeds.
After the stage, Garmin-Sharp DS Charlie Wegelius has this to say about Farrar: “For every sprinter, mojo is quite important. It’s like a striker in soccer when they stop scoring goals. They have to get that back. He suffered all the way through the Tour and Utah and he’s never given up.”
Today in Telluride Tyler Farrar won his first stage in over a year but more important than that, he found his hope again.