Phinney hunting road, time trial jerseys at U.S. nationals

Taylor Phinney is seeking history this weekend in the time trial and the road race at the U.S. championships

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As its 2010 winner, BMC Racing’s Taylor Phinney is no stranger to the patriotic skinsuit of the U.S. national time trial champion. But this Memorial Day weekend, the 23-year-old could ride his way into the record books as the first American man to simultaneously capture the men’s time trial and road titles as the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road & Time Trial National Championships make their return to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“It’s definitely a goal,” the 23-year-old told VeloNews of the opportunity to sweep the weekend event. “I’m not just here to race for fun. I’m here with a couple of objectives in mind. I don’t think there’s any problem with putting that out there.”

Phinney — who soloed to a road stage victory in last week’s Amgen Tour of California — is the hands down favorite for Saturday’s 19-mile time trial, which consists of two laps of an out-and-back course on the grounds of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga assembly plant. As a participant in the 2013 Giro d’Italia, Phinney was unable to ride in the race’s Tennessee debut, but assessed the venue favorably on Thursday.

“It’s a really good [time trial] course for me. It’s rolling, it has nice roads, and it’s not terribly long.”

On his way to Saturday’s podium, Phinney will need to dethrone Tom Zirbel (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies). The Clear Lake, Iowa native — himself a three-time runner-up in the event — snagged his first national TT title last year.

But defending champion or not, the gulf between the two riders may be significant — with Phinney besting Zirbel at the Tour of California’s Folsom time trial by a full 36 seconds. Perhaps a greater indicator of Phinney’s TT dominance? At press time, he was the only UCI WorldTour rider even registered for Saturday’s event — with BMC teammate Peter Stetina, Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing), Ted King (Cannondale), and each of Garmin-Sharp’s six-member race contingent opting to focus solely on the Memorial Day road race. (Phinney’s BMC teammate Larry Warbasse had planned to participate, but will not be present due to injuries sustained in a crash at the Tour of California.)

“I know that Taylor will be there,” Zirbel said. “That alone makes him the favorite given the performances he’s had over the past couple of years. But that’s fine with me. That’s what I want. I want the best guys there. It still comes down to who’s best on the day.”

The event will mark the second consecutive year in which the men’s and women’s fields have shared a common venue and equal prize money, with all four 2013 champions returning to defend their titles. In the women’s time trial, defending champion Carmen Small (Specialized-lululemon) will face off against teammate Evelyn Stevens and 2013 podium finishers Kristin McGrath (Twent16) and Allison Powers (UnitedHealthcare), among others.

It is Monday’s road race that will prove Phinney’s real test. Here he will join defending champion Freddie Rodriguez (Jelly Belly-Maxxis) and a field of 86 others on 102.8-mile course that includes four ascents of Lookout Mountain, followed by three finishing circuits through downtown Chattanooga.

“The road course is the one that I’m going to suffer on,” admits the BMC rider. “But if I can make it over the last climb on the fourth lap up then it’s ‘game on.’ My main objective is that I’ve got to make it there first, and then we can decide what the strategy is going to be.”

Early in the day, the women’s field will race over a 64.7-mile variation of the same course, with Optum’s Jade Wilcoxson and Lauren Hall — who placed first and second in 2013 — leading a field highlighted by Mara Abbott (UnitedHealthcare), Tayler Wiles (Specialized), Small, Stevens and 2012 champion Megan Guarnier (Boels Dolmans).

Should Phinney manage to snag both champions’ jerseys, he will be the first American man to wear them concurrently since the inception of the time trial championship in 2006. But there is something more important than record books beckoning the young superstar.

“For me the appeal lies in being able to represent the United States of America at every single race for the next 365 days,” Phinney told VeloNews. “That’s the coolest part — whether in the time trial, the road race or both. That’s the dream.”

VeloNews’ Dan Wuori will be covering the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road & Time Trial National Championships live from Chattanooga all weekend. Follow him on Twitter for updates throughout the weekend @dwuori.

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