Before we go any further, let’s get one thing straight. Tyler Farrar is not the next Lance Armstrong.
First of all, he’s six feet tall with thighs the size of cannons—that makes him a big hombre in pro cycling. Second of all, Armstrong, winner of seven consecutive Tour de France races, is a general classification (GC) rider, which means he’s concerned not so much about daily stage victories but with his cumulative time at the end of a weeks-long race.
Tyler Farrar doesn’t care about that. He doesn’t have to. He’s one of pro cycling’s rock stars, otherwise known as a sprinter.
Put differently, he’s the guy who’s bigger and faster than the average rider, not built for grinding his extra muscle to the top of steep hills but made for explosive bursts of power on the flats.
In the world of pro cycling, a sprinter’s victories are often decided near daily-stage finish lines, where you’ll see them punch ahead of the main pack to do battle with each other like racehorses with bad cases of speed-freak-itis—usually on camera amidst screaming spectators lining the final yards of the route.
And Farrar is one of the best. Just a few weeks ago, the 26-year-old cyclist, who has been racing in Europe since 2002—most recently with the American Garmin-Transitions team—sprinted to two stage victories at the Giro d’Italia, one of the three biggest races in professional cycling. (The other two: July’s Tour de France, of course, and the late summer Vuelta a España, aka Tour of Spain.)
Farrar is clear about his strengths. There are only so many entire Grand Tours to win. By contrast, within each tour, there are dozens of individual stages that end in a sprint for the finish—and that yields a unique mental state for sprinters. As retired Italian superstar sprinter Mario Cipollini told The New York Times last summer: “Every sprinter must think all the time, in every part of his life, that he is so much better than everyone else, that everyone else is really no good. It’s like a war on the bike, with the words and the mind. This is what a sprinter is made of.”
For his part, Farrar is happy to be U.S. cycling’s secret weapon, brought out to engage the competition when his skills are needed—and when the battleground calls for his skills. “I almost look at the rest of a bike race as what I have to do to get to the sprint,” Farrar explains.
Growing up in Wenatchee, Washington, a town of around 30,000 people along the Columbia River, Tyler Farrar was good at all the sports his athletic parents introduced him to—Nordic and alpine skiing, rock climbing, kayaking, and cycling. But he was indomitable on the bike, winning his first race at the age 13 and claiming three junior national titles the year he was 18.
These days, Farrar only lives fast on his bike. While most other American cyclists in Europe train and live in Girona, Spain, Farrar has set up house with his high school sweetheart in old-town Ghent, Belgium. He has a tattoo on each arm, one a Tibetan Buddhist meditation mantra, the other reading “May all be happy” in Pali, an Indian language. Both were put there, he says, ”to ground myself and find peace.”
“I guess there’s an aspect of chaos I’m drawn to,” Farrar explains. ”And the final sprint—fast and full of adrenaline—is nothing if not chaotic. Things happen so quickly in the last kilometers that the difference between winning and losing is often determined by instinctual split-second decisions.”