Farrar Q&A: On head injuries, winning again and Armstrong

Tyler Farrar is going back to basics for 2013, focusing on sprints instead of classics, and wants to read about positive cycling stories

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ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) wants to forget 2012 and return to the sweet spot he enjoyed during a three-year run that established him as one of the most consistent sprinters in the bunch.

The 28-year-old endured a frustrating 2012 season marked by narrow misses, crashes and a season-ending concussion with only two ticks in the win column.

This year, Farrar is putting aside last season’s early focus on the spring classics and returning to his roots. His season will be built around bunch sprints and regaining his kick.

VeloNews sat down with Farrar for an extensive interview during last month’s Santos Tour Down Under. Here’s what he had to say about sprinting, Lance Armstrong, and the challenges facing today’s peloton.

VeloNews: This is your 11th year as a pro. Are you starting to feel like a veteran?
Tyler Farrar: Somewhere in the middle. I don’t feel like I am an old rider yet, but I am not a young rider, either. Eleven years is a while. I’ve picked up some experience along the way.

VN: How do you sense where you are and still want to do?
TF: I certainly have a lot of ambition left. I do not feel like I am anywhere near the end. Last year was a pretty disappointing season for me. I was not at all satisfied with it. I am very motivated this year to get back to my best, to get back into that groove that I had been in for the three years before. That’s my number one goal for the season. I am happy where I am at in my career. I like the trajectory it’s taken. I am happy here at Garmin, this is my sixth year with the team. It’s been a good home for me.

VN: With only two wins last year, you certainly cannot be satisfied with that.
TF: Not as many wins as I would have liked. I had some disappointing periods. Crashing out at the Giro, not crashing out of the Tour, but having crashed a lot and having a pretty bland Tour as a result of it. It wasn’t the year I hoped for. I have to turn the page and try to get things back on the right track.

VN: What changes are you making for 2013?
TF: There are a few things I’ve tweaked coming into this year. Last year, there were a few things I had changed over the winter to focus on the classics. I don’t have the feeling that that worked. In a way, I’ve gone back to basics, training more the last months like I was in 2009, 2010, 2011, hopefully that will pay dividends when it comes to sprinting. Getting back on the track and doing a bit more speed work. More of a sprint focus in my training. I am a sprinter. I’ve got to focus on that.

VN: You focused on the classics in 2012, but you seem to suggest that it was a mistake?
TF: I put effort toward that last year. I did get stronger when it came to the cobbled climbs and pavé, but I wasn’t strong enough compared to the best guys. We’ll see. I am going to stick with what I know works and see how my body responds. The classics are still my favorite races of the year, hands down, and the races that I dream about most. You also have to admit what your strengths and weaknesses are as a rider. As a pro, you have to play to your strengths.

VN: Your best success came when Julian Dean was leading you out. How much of a factor was his departure last year?
VN: I have a good relationship with Robbie Hunter. The lead-out wasn’t my problem last year. In the first part of the year, I was simply not sprinting fast enough. I hadn’t trained for sprinting in the winter and I was totally focused on the classics. I lost some speed. It was a very frustrating year. When I focused back on sprinting, I crashed a lot, spent a lot of time coming back from injury. You’re always playing catch-up at that point. It wasn’t until August that I was back on the front foot. Not what I wanted.

VN: You crashed out of the Giro with a cut hand and then crashed several times in the Tour. How was that experience?
TF: It started going wrong, and it just kept going wrong. Frustrating is the only real word I have for it. I didn’t have an injury that was bad enough to take me out of the race. I was too stubborn to throw in the towel. I just kept plugging away at it. It wasn’t as if I was accomplishing much and making it to Paris.

VN: You came back to Colorado and won two stages, then crashed again in Britain. How did that happen?
TF: The first stage (at Tour of Britain), there was a massive pile-up right at the finish of the first stage, roughly with 1km to go. All of sudden there are a bunch of guys in front of me. There was nowhere to go and I launched. It was a sprint lead-out. I whacked my head pretty hard.

VN: You suffered a concussion. Describe how that was.
TF: I have not dealt with anything like that and it was not fun. I have broken plenty of bones over the years. If I had to choose, I would break a bone again rather than deal with that. I was in a bad place for a few weeks. It took over a month before I was myself again and back to normal.

VN: What kinds of things did you experience?
TF: You are just out of it. After a real concussion, you have to take care of it and give your brain time to recover. That involves complete rest. You just feel like your brain is slow. It felt like everything was moving through molasses. It took a while to feel back to myself in day-to-day conversation. It’s really scary. I’ve heard about it; until you’ve had one, you don’t know what that means. “OK, whacked his head, he has some headaches.” I’ve never had anything like this.

VN: So you got the green light to return in October?
TF: The team has a very strict protocol in place if anyone sustains head trauma. We went through it step-by-step. The immediate step is to take scans to make sure you do not have bleeding on the brain, anything that can kill you. Then it’s total rest, and there’s a gradual process to increasing your activity. It worked, but it wasn’t a fun process. I felt like they took good care of me. By mid- to late October, I was back to normal, to train again.

VN: You have suffered a lot of crashes in your career. Do you get to a point when it’s too much?
TF: It’s part of the sport. You try not to think about crashing. You know it’s a possibility. As soon as you start thinking about crashing, you become hesitant. You start to hit the brakes, and that almost causes more crashes. Because that hesitation puts you in a bad situation when you crash.

VN: Do the crashes knock back your confidence?
TF: Last year was a bad year. I was performing at my best, that’s for sure. I am confident in the training I’ve done the past few months. I am looking forward to doing some sprints and testing where I am. I am happy with how my winter went, training-wise, a good place to test to see where I am at in climbing, in racing, in sprinting. And then you can address whatever weaknesses you have.

VN: You’ve suffered your fair share of setbacks over the past few years, with the injury of your father, the death of Wouter Weylandt, crashes; how has that impacted your racing?
TF: That’s life. You cannot control it. Most of those things were completely out of my control. What can you do except roll with the punches and keep moving when it’s a bad situation and try to make the best of it? There’s nothing else you can do except curl up in a ball and die. All those things shape you as a person. That’s part of life. No one has everything go perfect all the time. Being a professional cyclist, so I am in the spotlight, so these things that have happened, everyone knows about it. If you take 50 random people off the street, they’ve all had horrible things happen to loved ones. That’s just life.

VN: After some of the hardships you’ve endured, does it make you look at things in a different way?
TF: Having a year like that makes you really appreciate the good years. Having a year when you feel like everything was going wrong makes you realize how awesome it is when everything is going right. Most athletes have peaks and valleys throughout their career. I am chalking 2012 up as a valley.

VN: What would be an ideal season for you in 2013?
TF: The thing I’ve had in my mind since I started training again is just getting back to my best. Getting back to how I was riding in 2009, 2010, 2011. I know I am still capable of that. It’s one bad season and put that behind me. I want to have a good year and win races again.

VN: Who is going to be there to help you in the sprints?
TF: The first order of business is showing that I am sprinting at the top level, then we’ll worry about the train. First I need to show that I am at my best. I am not stressing about the leadout train right now. Doesn’t matter how good your train is, if you do not have the legs to finish it off. I have to show that I have those legs.

VN: Cycling is taking some body blows these days. As a pro today, many now assume you’re doped to the gills. How do you deal with that kind of negativity?
VN: It sucks. I get angry about it. The thing I get angry about is having to defend my sport for things that took place even before I was a professional. People say, “Lance was doing this in 1999 or 2002.” As a professional cyclist, you’re stuck trying to answers those questions. It’s not nice. No matter what you say, those stories are still out there. It’s hard to deal with. All you can do is look forward. The other side of it, that doesn’t get reported, I am almost proud that these stories are out there. It shows that we are actually trying to do something. There are a lot of sports that do not do anything. These other sports do not have scandals because they do not. At FIFA, not all their players are out-of-competition tested. It’s hard to have positives if you do not have tests. We have these scandals because we are trying to fix the problem. You cannot snap your fingers and make it better overnight. That’s not how the world works.

VN: Do you believe that your rivals are clean?
TF: I give everyone the benefit of the doubt until someone tests positive. You cannot be thinking about that — that’s not what I need to be focusing on. At the end of the day, I can only affect my own decisions. I cannot stop someone from doping. If they are going to make that decision, I just hope they get caught. I think the vast majority of the peloton is clean. Having a 100-percent peloton that is clean will never happen. That’s like saying we will end crime. No matter how severe the penalty is, there will always be someone who will take the risk. There is a certain element of human nature. You’re always going to fight a battle against that. You hope that the tests are as effective as possible to catch.

VN: People say that the peloton is in a very different place these days; when and how did change occur from your perspective?
TF: I wasn’t there in the bad old days. I never saw the worst of it. It had already changed a fair bit before I even got here. Bringing the biological passport in has been huge. I do not understand the ins and outs of the science of it. It is very effective. I put faith in the anti-doping tests. There are ways around them, but the tests we have now are a whole lot more effective than they were 15 years ago. They are more precise and can detect more things than before. The margins are lot tighter on what they can detect. I hope they are catching anyone who is doping. The guys who do not get caught, they’re not doping.

VN: Did you watch the Lance Armstrong interview on Oprah?
TF: No. I am so tired of it. I read the highlights of it afterward. You kind of have to, because this is my career, just in case he had dropped some huge bomb. To be honest, I have stopped reading these stories, because they are the same story. I cannot count how many Lance Armstrong dope stories I have read in the past several months, and to tell the truth, they are all the same story. Maybe there are new details, but it’s the same thing, before you just become numb to it.

VN: Do you think that Armstrong owes cycling, the peloton and the pros, an apology?
TF: I would like it if he would just go away. I am so tired of hearing about Lance Armstrong. He did what he did, he had a lot of glory, and caused a lot of damage to the sport. I think the biggest favor he could do would be just to go away. Stop giving interviews. Stop tweeting pictures of himself with yellow jerseys. Stop stirring the pot. Just stop. I would just love to get on VeloNews and not see a Lance Armstrong story. I do not remember the last time that happened.

VN: How do your peers in the peloton feel about all of the negative headlines?
TF: Cycling’s been my life since I was a kid. Since I was about 15 years old, I wanted to be a pro. Since I was 19, I have been a pro. It’s my life. I hate seeing what the sport is going through right now. It’s a necessary evil. We are dealing with our demons. I also feel like it’s all out there already. I would like to start moving forward. The demons have been revealed. Now it’s time to find solutions and make the changes. We cannot just rehash history forever. Now I saw somewhere they’re bringing up stuff in the 1980s. That some team was doping in the 1980s. How far back are we going to go? We can do this forever. Let’s kill all of our heroes. I am not condoning anyone having doped in any way. At some point, it stops being productive. It’s not a secret anymore. That stuff was rampant back then — obviously — it’s come out. Everyone knows that now. To keep talking about how rampant it was stops accomplishing anything. I would like to focus on the next step of the process.

VN: Several of your teammates and [team manager Jonathan] Vaughters played a key role in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency case. What did you know about that?
TF: I don’t know how that went down between those guys. I know six years ago, the very first morning of the very first team camp, JV gave a speech and laid it out: “this is what we are, this is what we believe in. Some of you have sordid pasts.” David Millar was sitting right there. “What happened is in the past. If it’s every called up to testify, tell the truth. You will never be punished for what happened in the past. But what we do in the future is what we care about.” He stuck to his guns on that. I respect that. Those guys, yes, they cheated and made mistakes. They actively made a decision to change that. You have to respect that, too. It’s been hard. They’re such good friends. I’ve known them so long now. Christian Vande Velde is like a big brother to me. I talk to him all the time and it’s really been hard to watch him go through this. I feel for him. I am not giving him a pass, either. He did what he did. When a friend makes a mistake in life, you stand by your friends; it’s been a hard process.

VN: What are your thoughts about them returning to the team in March?
TF: Personally, I agree with what JV said. You cannot change what you did in the past, what’s important is what you’re doing now. I fully believe those guys that they haven’t done any of that stuff [doped since joining the team]. I am 100-percent confident since they’ve come to Slipstream that they’ve been on the straight and narrow. As a cyclist, you go crazy if you worry about what happened in the past. I am worried about what’s happening now.

VN: Have you spoken with Vande Velde, Zabriskie, Danielson lately?
TF: I cannot speak for them personally. I am sure it’s nice to not be hiding that kind of secret anymore. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to carry that. Things sounded pretty insane back then. It’s such a messy process. Everybody is doing the best they can to make right at this point.

VN: There is a lot of anger out there. Should people believe that cycling has changed?
TF: I hope so. I want them to. I can give them a lot of reasons why this sport is beautiful. I can go down the list of everything that’s happened to make cycling clean. The scandals are out there. Fans got burned. Everybody got burned. I was a fan. I remember watching Lance win all those Tours. I was a kid. I am just watching it on TV, thinking it’s awesome. I understand that everyone feels burned by that. It’s not just Lance, but that whole generation. How many guys from that period have tested positive? It sucks. All I can say, this generation is trying to doing it different.

VN: Do you believe that [Bradley] Wiggins won the Tour de France clean?
TF: Until there is something to prove otherwise, I trust that he did. I rode with Wiggo at Cofidis. I rode with Wiggo at Garmin in 2009 in the Tour. I never saw anything during that period that would indicate he was doing anything suspicious. I trust him.

VN: Contador?
TF: He got caught. Granted, it was a weird thing, but something came up. He got suspended. The process took way longer than it should have. He got his Tour win revoked. Again, the benefit of the doubt, I am assuming he’s doing it all straight up now.

VN: With the anger, does the peloton today feel any sort of responsibility to reach out to fans?
TF: It’s a really weird situation right now … you try. I am up and down with it. I make the mistakes of reading comment sections sometimes. I get so angry. People are painting with such broad strokes. You’re saying this about me, but I wasn’t even there. It pisses me off. But when I stop and think about it, I understand why people feel this way. It is what it is … I just hope with all this, that we come out of this for the better on the other side. It will be really nice to read some positive stories about cycling again.

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