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BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — Taylor Phinney finished fourth — twice — at the London Olympics a little over a month ago. He joked afterward that he didn’t want to be the dreaded forgotten finisher. He’ll have a three chances to find the podium — and a good shot at the individual time trial title — at the UCI Road World Championships, which open Saturday in the Netherlands.
The young American’s performances in London and at the USA Pro Challenge, where he won the stage 7 time trial, have his name amongst a list of top favorites in the ITT on September 19. Phinney will also compete on September 16 with his BMC Racing outfit in the team time trial, an event that the UCI has brought back to the table this year. And there’s also the hilly road race course, which uses the Cauberg as a finishing climb, reminiscent of the Amstel Gold Race.
“For me, the time trial is the biggest goal. I’ve stayed really fit and even gotten stronger with the last couple races… It’s really been a fight to stay motivated and keep training. With the huge buildup to the Olympics, and the climax with the time trial win in Denver, it was easy to get lost for a couple days,” Phinney told VeloNews. “But you know, I’m back on the grind and really motivated for this time trial. It’s a hilly time trial but they’re all hills that are really short, which is something I’m good at.”
Phinney, like many of the riders in the Netherlands, will be a busy man. He has a date with three events: the team time trial, the individual time trial — where he’s expected to excel — and the road race, where he’ll work to spring BMC teammate Tejay van Garderen onto the finish climb. The men’s road race closes the world championships on Sunday September 23.
The individual time trial is a golden opportunity for Phinney. Bradley Wiggins (Sky), who won both Tour de France time trials and the gold medal in the London Olympics, is skipping the event, as is Swiss powerhouse Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan). Strongman Tony Martin (Omega Pharm-Quick Step) is still coming back from his fractured scaphoid at the Tour and is better suited to flatter time trials than the hilly Limburg affair. It’s wide open in the Netherlands, and Phinney knows it.
“An Olympic year is a very good opportunity for a time trialist like myself to go to the world championships and pop a result,” said Phinney. “As you see, guys like Wiggins and Cancellara are not contesting it at all. That’s the next big goal for me.”
There is reason to think Phinney has a shot at the worlds to podium, and even perhaps win. In the short but technical time trial capping off the USA Pro Challenge, Phinney averaged more than 30 miles per hour. But that TT was nearly pancake-flat and came at the end of a hard week of racing. Finishing atop the Cauberg climb that will feature in the road race, worlds will be a different affair and van Garderen, very much a man for the hilly time trials, will also compete in the TT.
The team time trial is another opportunity for Phinney and his BMC Racing team. The team effort, back from an 18-year break, will be held on Sunday in the Limburg region of the Netherlands, opening up the world championship week. Trade teams, rather than national squads, of six riders will race, for both the men and women. The course is 53.2km for the men and 32km for the women.
“The main focus for me is not only the time trial, but the team time trial, with BMC. I think we have a really strong team,” Phinney said. As of Wednesday afternoon, BMC had yet to announce its roster for the TTT, though it’s a strong bet the squad will include Phinney and van Garderen.
There is a third act for Phinney at worlds, and it’s the road race. The parcours is difficult and will not favor a sprinter but rather a puncheur, who can both attack on the vaunted Cauberg (1.2km at 5.8 percent) and contest the sprint after a kilometer of slight decline over the top of the climb.
The course features two climbs on each lap, with the Bemelerberg (with a maximum grade of 17 percent) coming about midway through each circuit in the road race. The route continues about 4km over moderately climbing terrain before descending into the edge of Valkenburg. The route turns left onto the Cauberg, which features ramps as steep 12 percent.
“It’s a really hard course, for sure, with the finish a little bit past the Cauberg. It’s a finish that definitely suits a guy like Tejay. He’s showing that he’s on some really good form, especially on some short uphill finishes like that,” Phinney said. “For me, I’ll be in more of a supporting role there, unless I have the greatest day of my life. I’ve stayed lean this whole summer, and that Amstel-style racing I do enjoy. It’s a mix between the flatter Belgian cobbled classics — with no cobbles — and then the Ardennes, with the hills. It’s nervous all the time, but there’s some climbing. So, I think we’re really motivated and we have a great nine-man squad that’s ready to rally around one leader.”
Joining Phinney and van Garderen on the U.S. National Team for the road race are Timmy Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan), Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing), Matthew Busche (RadioShack-Nissan), Lucas Euser (Spidertech) and Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp). Duggan, Farrar and Horner joined van Garderen and Phinney in the London Olympics road race.
Farrar was forced to abandon the Tour of Britain after sustaining a concussion in a crash on Sunday, which puts his worlds participation in doubt. Garmin has yet to reveal further details on his condition.
The nature of this road season lends itself to unpredictability this late in the year, with the Olympics throwing a huge curveball. The same factors that have opened up the time trial may be at play in the road race as well.
“It’s a punchy climbers’ course. You can see a lot of different guys just depending on where they’re at in the season, because it is a strange season with so many guys going really hard for the Tour and the Olympics and kind of tapering off from there,” Phinney said. “Tejay and I have been able to keep the fire stoked for the past couple weeks.”
The young American duo will try and harness that fire starting Sunday in the southeastern hills of the Netherlands.