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PONFERRADA, Spain (VN) — For the first time since 2008, Tyler Farrar will be donning a new jersey next season. The veteran sprinter is accepting a new challenge at MTN-Qhubeka, the African-based team with big ambitions for the future.
Farrar is America’s most successful sprinter, with stage victories in all three grand tours, but by his own admission, he’s not been at the top level the past few seasons. The 30-year-old told VeloNews that a switch to MTN-Qhubeka as part of a two-year deal will provide him with new challenges, and a new role.
Also joining MTN-Qhubeka next season are Matt Goss, Theo Bos, and Edvald Boasson Hagen, other riders with fast kicks who will be trying to win races for the professional-continental team.
Although Farrar is not giving up entirely on bunch sprints, for next season, he will begin the transition toward becoming a lead-out man for others, as well as focusing more on the spring classics. He still hopes to win a few sprints when he can, but he’s intent on broadening his skillset for his new employer.
Farrar called the move to MTN-Qhubeka the “next chapter” of his racing career that began as a 20-year-old with Cofidis in 2006. In this phone interview with VeloNews, Farrar talks about why he’s excited to take the next step in his career:
VN: How did the move happen to MTN-Qhubeka?
Tyler Farrar: I am pretty pumped for it. [Team advisor] Brian Smith got in contact with me over the summer to feel me out for next year, and to fill me in on what they were doing. Right from the outset, I was pretty impressed. It’s a cool program, with some neat ideas. We went back and forth on my goals and theirs, and things lined up nicely. It felt like a good move right from the start.
VN: The team is bringing in a lot of new, high-profile riders, and most of them sprinters; where will you fit in?
TF: I had a good chat with them about that. Right from outset, they wanted to challenge me a bit to think of this as an opportunity to begin a new chapter in my career, to think of myself a little differently as a rider. I have to look at my career has unfolded, and be honest. I had some years there, when I was one of the top sprinters [2009-2011]. I was winning at the grand-tour level, and in the straight-up field sprints. When you look at the way sprinters have evolved, how I’ve matured as a rider, I am not at that level as one of the top sprinters in the worlds right now. I’ve continued to progress in the classics, and what I’ve lost in snap, I’ve gained in speed. I will move more toward spring classics, and continue to develop in that direction. I want to step outside my comfort zone, to put myself in position to win again.
VN: So will you strictly be a lead-out man for the sprints, or still have your own chances?
TF: I will play a variety of roles when it comes to sprints. At certain times of year, I will be able to sprint for myself. We will have a pretty amazing sprint squad, with a lot of horsepower. I will still get my chance to sprint, but we have Theo Bos, and when it comes to a pure field sprinter, he is super quick. We’ll be riding a lot for him. We’ll see, depending on the day, on the course, we have a lot of guys who are quick. We can pick our days. If it’s a pretty hilly day, it’s good for Edvald, that kind of thing. We’ll win a lot of races with this group of guys, that’s for sure.
VN: So you don’t mind slotting into a lead-out role after being a lead sprinter for so many years?
TF: This is also a chance for me to move forward, and try a lead-out role a little bit. I have a lot of experience when it comes to sprinting. I think I could be good in the role.
VN: Again this season, you’ve been close to some big wins, but haven’t won any races; how frustrating is that, or do you try to find motivation out of being close?
TF: I’ve been putting together a ton of second places without wins, so it’s frustrating. Even in my best years, I had more second places than wins. I am always consistent; always bopping around the top-5, popping for wins here and there. Sure, it’s been a bit frustrating. There have been a lot of close calls. But getting second at Dwars door Vlaanderen, that was not a win, but it was a huge result for me to get second there. It was a relatively selective race, and that was a top result for me in the spring classics. Some of the second places can be frustrating. I went to Ster ZLM Toer, and I was second every day to a different guy. The others can be quite motivating, so it’s a little bit of both. I certainly wouldn’t mind converting a few of those to victories.
VN: Is it harder to win bunch sprints compared to four or five years ago?
TF: Field sprinting has really evolved a lot over the last five years. There is no one dominant sprint train. Now, there are three or four teams who can do lead-outs for the sprints, and that’s changed the dynamic a lot. Greipel and Kittel are putting out insane watts. And there are some very good young sprinters coming up, like Degenkolb and Bouhanni, and then there’s always Cavendish. It’s been an incredible generation of sprinters.
VN: Do you consider it bad luck to have coincided against so many good sprinters?
TF: That’s how it goes. I certainly won my fair share of races during my career, and I still hope I have more wins to come. What kind of races I win may change over the years, something a little different than doing the straight up Tour de France field sprint. That’s the reality. Back when there was one truly dominant leadout train, everyone was scrambling off of them, and it was easier to pop for wins. Now there are so many leadout teams, it’s harder for guys to try to ride solo and freelance for themselves. We will have a strong team for MTN when it comes to the sprints. It will be really fun to be part of a team that can be truly put together for the sprints.
VN: You had a solid spring classics campaign this year, with second in Dwars door Vlaanderen and GP Scheldeprijs, is that where you see yourself focusing for the future?
TF: I was very happy with it. If it wasn’t my best classics season, it was right up there. I was solid in the races that were good for me. I felt like I met my goals. This is a team that is keen for me to continue to move in that direction. We’ve put together a solid classics squad, with Ciolek, [Reinhardt] Van Rensberg, Edvald Boasson Hagen. Ciolek won Milano-Sanremo in the team’s first season. I think we’ll have a strong team for the spring. Having the numbers and more riders in the finale, that’s always better when you can play off each other.
VN: So how long is your deal with MTN?
TF: Two years. It’s not a new team, but they’re obviously taking a big step up. It’s a program that’s super ambitious, with a lot of room to grow. I am excited to be a part of this development, helping the younger guys on the team, and helping the African guys who are new to European racing. I’ve been racing a long time, and I think I can help those guys.
VN: Did you have offers from other teams?
TF: I did speak to a few people, but from the beginning, from my first conversation with Brian, I was really excited about the program. It wasn’t a done deal, but when I hung up the phone, I thought, I hope that works out, because it sounds great.
VN: There was some speculation you might go to GreenEdge; did you talk to them?
TF: I am really good friends with Matt White; we’re buddies. I’ve stayed in touch with all those guys, but this was the best fit out there for me. They have a pretty solid full roster at GreenEdge, they’ve got their guys built up. MTN was a chance to be part of an up-and-coming program. I’ve done that in the past, and I’ve enjoyed being part of a program with something to prove.
VN: You spent seven seasons with Garmin-Sharp, what are you feelings about leaving that team?
TF: I think it’s good to challenge yourself sometimes. You can fall into familiar patterns, so going somewhere different, with a different culture; that can be a good thing. I hope it can be a breath of fresh air. I am looking forward to it.
VN: You’re still in the game, do you have the same passion to race?
TF: I still love it. It’s been a wild ride thus far, with highs and lows, but so far, the highs have outnumbered the lows. I am excited to open a new chapter and take the next step in my career.