There were two high profile American riders without contracts late in the season: RadioShack’s ancient Chris Horner and Garmin-Sharp’s struggling sprinter Tyler Farrar.
Both rode the recent Vuelta a Espana with opposite results. Horner had the amazing good fortune to take two stages and become the oldest winner of a grand tour and likely scored himself one last sweet contract deal before retirement.
There were minimal opportunities for sprinters in the Vuelta and Farrar missed out on all of them. Contract issues for Tyler Farrar appear to be far more complicated. Or as the Spanish might have said after his Vuelta performance: nada.
First, his existing team is undergoing a massive overhaul and roster replenishment. Farrar, for so long a mainstay of the Boulder-based squad, appears to be on his way out.
He hasn’t had many wins in the last few years and second there’s still confusion about what he’s best suited to do on a race bike. As a sprinter he’s had some notable successes including a breakthrough win against Mark Cavendish in the Tour de France back in 2011. Last season he picked up two stage wins in the Tour of Colorado, which is also called the US Pro Cycling Challenge for God knows why.
However, Farrar has been dogged by injuries, bad crashes, a concussion and the death of a close friend Wouter Weylandt. Some would argue that he’s never been the same sprinter since that day in the Giro d’Italia when Wouter died.
Last year, Farrar changed up his training to focus on trying his hand at the early season classics. He lost in top end, turbo kick in return for some power over the cobblestones but the results didn’t come close to matching hopes and expectation.
You might even call that plan a disaster. Farrar spent the rest of the year attempting to regain his top end speed. He had his moments (Colorado) but then almost to script, crashed hard once again, his late season derailed.
We feel for Tyler Farrar who is a thoughtful, curious and engaging young man who has a life and many interests outside the narrow, pressure-filled world of pro cycling. He’s well-traveled and well-read and a genuine nice guy. He isn’t in the Cavendish mold of throwing helmets and screaming at or kissing teammates if he loses or wins.
Winning isn’t life and death to Farrar and perhaps the death of Wouter Weylandt brought that into even more powerful perspective. In any case, the results sheet is pretty black and white and it doesn’t match his salary at Garmin.
He isn’t winning, he’s had bad luck and crashes, he doesn’t have a contract and there’s a whole new generation of sprinters coming up that are passing him. Farrar can’t seem to match the speed of Cav or Griepel or Sagan or the young guns like Marcel Kittel who won four stages at this year’s Tour de France. In fact, for the first time in years, Farrar wasn’t selected for Le Grand Shindig.
Unless some miracle of training or motivation occurs, Farrar unfortunately looks like a second tier sprinter — a solid, dependable guy for places 5 through 10. That sounds like a salary cut and a bitter pill to swallow.
Where does a talented guy like Tyler Farrar end up for the 2014 season and in what role? The first hard question is whether he goes the route of Alessandro Petacchi and becomes a top lead-out man. How much would Argos-Shimano’s Marcel Kittle and John Degenkolb like to have Farrar as last man in the final 500 meters? Petacchi has already fit in well at Omega Pharma and Cavendish is thrilled.
The other course would be for Farrar to revisit the failed experiment of 2012: the classics rider. Living in Belgium, Farrar knows these races and know how to ride them. Perhaps with another team he could find some success as a strong man with a fast kick, an American version of Sylvain Chavanel Lite. Who’s to say he couldn’t re-invent himself in that way? Jonathan Vaughters might discount that possibility after watching the first attempt fail but a full commitment from Farrar and some luck could turn things around.
We’ve always wondered whether a sprinter needs that angry fire — like a Cavendish or Cipolini. The sprinter cliche is the fast twitch hot head, quick to the finish line and quick to anger. That kind of visceral combat in the final 1000 meters seems to favor the guys who take offensive easily and then convert that into watts.
Farrar is from the new school that doesn’t focus on rivals — it’s all about maximizing your individual performance. Our fear is that Farrar is just a little too nice. Then again, he went berserk in the Tour two years ago when he felt Argos-Shimano’s Tom Veelers had taken him down in a sprint. If he could channel that snarling anger, it would help the acceleration.
We hope for the best for Tyler who deserves better luck than he’s had the last two years. We’d like to see him back in the Tour de France but it may be as a lead-out man. Horner will score his deal but who knows where Farrar will land or what he’ll do when he gets there.