Tyler Farrar is a sprinter in the language of cycling, meaning he prefers the straight and flat to the up and down. Keeping things level is a trait that has proved helpful during a year in which he has had to navigate through some of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
On Saturday, the 2002 graduate of Wenatchee High School will become the first Washington native to participate in the Tour de France. He is one of nine riders for the Garmin-Slipstream team. The selection, which officially arrived last week, fulfilled a dream for the 25-year-old, who began competitive riding when he was 12. "It's probably the biggest race in the world," Tyler Farrar said. "It's pretty exciting I get to do it." Yet that happy news came nine months after he rushed from his current home base in Ghent, Belgium, back to Wenatchee after his father, Ed, was in a serious accident while biking to work. Ed Farrar, a local orthopedist and cycling enthusiast whose love for the sport helped get his son interested, was hit head-on by a car that had crossed lanes while the driver searched for a dropped clipboard, according to a report in The Wenatchee World. Ed Farrar suffered life-threatening injuries that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Tyler Farrar spent most of the winter in Wenatchee helping care for his father.
When Ed Farrar returned home in January, Tyler returned to Belgium and racing.
"This is my job," Tyler Farrar said. "When the time comes, you have to get back on it."
After narrowly missing a spot in the Tour last year, making that team became the goal for this season. He essentially clinched a spot when he finished second in two stages of the Giro d'Italia last month.
"I've kind of known for a while now that as long as everything kept going OK that I would probably be doing the Tour," Farrar said in a phone interview from Spain. "I've been training to prepare for it." While cycling may seem from the outside like the ultimate individual sport, teamwork is actually a vitally important aspect. "Everybody has a job to do," Farrar said.
Farrar's job is to sprint, to set the pace on the flat stages and try to earn a stage win.
By nearly winning in Italy, he proved he was ready for cycling's biggest race. "It kind of showed that I had the speed that was necessary to win [a stage]," he said, "so I'll take another crack at it here at the Tour." Farrar is the first to admit his sprinting acumen means he's never likely to win the whole thing at a race like the Tour de France. "You have what you are good at and what you are not so good at," he said. "I happen to be really good at sprinting. But, no, I don't think I'll ever be able to be competitive in the mountains ... That just selects a different kind of rider."
Farrar is in his second season with Garmin-Slipstream, a team that has taken an outspoken stance as being drug-free, ordering what Farrar calls "strict in-house testing" on top of the regular tests conducted by race officials. Farrar says that attracted him to the team.
"Cycling has had its share of scandals over the year, and I don't want to become involved in that," he said. "I've always been a clean rider, and now I know all my team is. I don't have to worry about them doing something stupid that is going to bite me, too [entire teams are penalized when a rider tests positive]." Farrar got hooked on cycling when he was a young kid in Wenatchee. Both parents were avid riders, and "I knew by the time I was 14 or 15 I wanted to be a pro bike racer," he said. By 18, Farrar had made the U.S. National Team and knew being a pro was a realistic goal. Family lore has it that Tyler was just 8 when he fell in love with the Tour de France during a trip to France to visit an aunt while the race was going on. That's when he decided he wanted to return someday as a rider. Today, he laughs when that story is brought up and insists he doesn't really remember the trip all that well. "Maybe it sunk down into my subconscious," he said. Starting Saturday, he'll get to experience the real thing on his bike. His mother and father, meanwhile, will be forced to watch their son's greatest moment on TV from home. Though his dad is doing well, Tyler said, "he's just not ready for a trip of that size yet."
Maybe his father — like his son had to do — will just have to wait an extra year to make that trip to France.