Signing Taylor Phinney was complicated, says BMC Racing Team’s Jim Ochowicz

BMC Racing's Jim Ochowicz talks with VeloNews about signing Taylor Phinney and the team's role in developing young riders.

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2010 Interbike, Ochowicz
Ochowicz at Interbike last week

Taylor Phinney is the latest big-name signing for BMC Racing Team, which surprised many last year by bringing on George Hincapie and Cadel Evans. But signing up the 20-year-old American was a bit complicated, according to team co-owner and president Jim Ochowicz. Ochowicz said the recently crowned U.S. time trial champion was considering offers from about a half dozen teams.

The move came as a surprise to many after Phinney spent two years with RadioShack’s Trek-Livestrong U23 development team. But BMC Racing has a long-term industry sponsor on board, something RadioShack does not. The team also boasts Ochowicz, who directed Taylor’s father, Davis, on the 7-Eleven and Motorola teams.

While the Phinney negotiations were complicated, Hincapie’s transfer from HTC-Columbia was, on the other hand, quiet. “With George we were the only player and it was George’s decision,” he said. “With Taylor, once the ice broke, a lot of people came out of the water after him with good offers and opportunities.”

In joining BMC Racing, Phinney will work closely with Hincapie, who has long been the American frontrunner in the spring classics. Ochowicz said the 16-year pro would take on a mentoring role with Phinney, who alongside Garmin-Transitions’ Tyler Farrar, is arguably the country’s next great classics hope.

“George was and still is an important part of the organization,” said Ochowicz. “He’s entering a new phase of his career where he will be mentoring Taylor; he wants to do that, and he’ll be showing him the way through the peloton in the early rounds.”

Hincapie is widely known for his solid bike handling skills and Phinney will benefit from his mentor’s guidance. Phinney started the Tour of Denmark in August as a stagiaire for RadioShack, but crashed hard in the first stage and later abandoned. The 20-year-old crashed again a few weeks later at the Tour de l’Avenir and gave up the leader’s jersey he had won in the prologue.

When asked whether he’d ever seen the kind of attention paid Phinney for any other U23 rider, Ochowicz said the only one that came close was Lance Armstrong, who he recruited to Motorola after the 1992 Summer Olympics. “(The Europeans) really didn’t know who Lance was in 1992. They had amateur racing, but it wasn’t as publicized, there weren’t as many races. They had Tour de l’Avenir and Lance won a stage, but people weren’t interested in developing the youth so much,” said Ochowicz. “We were.”

Ochowicz has a long history in developing young riders, from signing the elder Phinney to 7-Eleven at 23 years old to guiding current youngsters like Chris Butler and Brent Bookwalter onto BMC’s professional squad. Unlike Garmin and Radio Shack, the team does not operate a full U23 program, but instead employs a number of young amateurs and works with USA Cycling’s development program to bring those riders onto the top European circuit. Cole House and Larry Warbasse have spent time with the trade and national teams in 2011 and Butler made the move to the professional team prior to the Giro del Trentino this spring.

“There is certainly justification for doing a U23 program,” said Ochowicz. “We would do one — and we do support U23 in a different way — but running a completely separate organization like that requires more manpower, funding and organization and we’ve elected not to do that right now.”

The former USA Cycling president said challenges exist in running a full development team, including an issue that Phinney — and HTC-Columbia neo-pro Tejay van Garderen — brought to the forefront in their recent contract negotiations. “There’s no guarantee that you raise these kids and they stay with the family. Some of them look for other opportunities,” said Ochowicz. “It’s tough, but it’s an obligation to support the youth side of the sport and what happens, happens. It’s not a guarantee in a lot of different examples, but it’s a necessity.”

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