Tyler Farrar among top riders to watch in Tour of California

A lot can happen in six years.

In 2009, Tyler Farrar won 11 races in six countries and finished second 12 times. The soft-spoken rider from Wenatchee, Wash., was 25 and among cycling’s best sprinters.

When he showed up at the first big race the following season, there was a surprise. Farrar’s image – arms thrust wide, face ecstatic – was emblazoned across the team’s motorhome.

In recent years, however, Farrar, who moved to Ghent, Belgium, several years ago and infrequently competes in the United States, has had numerous injuries and he’s won just four times since 2011.

Farrar, one only a few American riders who have won stages in the Tour de France, Tour of Italy and Tour of Spain, will be seeking his first win since 2013 in the Amgen Tour of California.

After seven seasons with Garmin, Farrar is in his first year with MTN-Qhubeka, the South African-based squad that is dominated by sprinters.

Despite competing primarily in Europe, Farrar has done well at the Tour of California. He won a sprint stage from Santa Clarita to Santa Barbara in 2013. He also held the race lead for one day in 2008 after finishing second in Stage 1 and earning intermediate sprint points in Stage 2.

Five other riders to watch in this year’s Tour, which starts Sunday at the State Capitol:

Haimar Zubeldia Agirre, 38, Spain: He has finished the Tour de France 12 times, five times in the top 10. He rarely wins a race; he often melts into the peloton. But as one of the oldest riders in pro cycling, he’s almost always in the mix, particularly in grand tours (three-week races). Look for him in the Tour of California mountain stages. He finished 17th in 2013 and 12th last year.

Matthew Busche, 29, Wauwatosa, Wis.: Four years ago, the former collegiate runner made his pro cycling statement when he surprisingly won the U.S. National Road Race Championship, but he hasn’t won since. Still, the veteran Trek Factory cyclist does most things well. He finished 13th overall in last year’s Tour of California, sixth in 2013 and 12th in 2012. He completed his debut in the Tour de France in 2014, finishing 98th.

Alex Howes, 27, Golden, Colo.: The Cannondale-Garmin rider was a surprise participant in the Tour de France in 2014 and finished 127th. Last August, Howes had his first pro win in Stage 7 of the USA Pro Challenge, the Tour of California equivalent in Colorado. He also finished second in Stages 1 and 2 and signed a rare three-year contract with his current team through the 2017 season.

Eric Marcotte, 34, Scottsdale, Ariz.: Marcotte won the 2014 U.S. National Road Race Championship and the U.S. National Criterium Championship earlier this season. He’ll lead the upstart SmartStop squad that also features Evan Huffman from Elk Grove. Marcotte is rare among pros – he has a full-time chiropractic practice.

Mark Renshaw, 32, Australia: If you’re a sprinter, you want him on your team. Renshaw’s often been called cycling’s best lead-out rider, the cyclist who pulls a team’s best sprinter to the front before easing out of position in the waning meters. Mark Cavendish, his teammate on Etixx – Quick-Step, has more than 150 career wins. He credits Renshaw for many of them.

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