This time last year the Universe was imparting signs to Taylor Phinney.
The charismatic American spotted a pink Fiat 500 as he departed for the Giro d’Italia. The weather was good and he was allocated favourite race number 44 before the Herning prologue.
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Phinney as early as February had identified the 8.7km opener as a personal objective ahead of what was his Giro debut. And on the day he was bang on target besting Geraint Thomas (Sky) by nine seconds to win the first maglia rosa, which he wore for three days.
Phinney was guided slightly off course on the final stage but finished the 28.2km time trial in Milan and with that his first full Grand Tour. He didn’t race again until the Olympic Games, where he was fourth in both the elite men’s road race and time trial, instead embarking on a series of training camps in Boulder, Colorado. It was after those camps that Phinney’s father, Davis, the 1984 Olympic Games team time trial bronze medalist and two-time Tour de France stage winner, said: “I’m really excited to see what he can do in his next Grand Tour.”
That brings us, again, to the Giro, which opens Saturday with a 130km flat stage in Naples before Sunday’s 17.4km team time trial. Phinney’s BMC outfit has confirmed a strong line-up that will assemble together in Italy today ahead of the first Grand Tour of the 2013 season.
“I’m a completely different bike rider than I was last year,” Phinney told Cycling Weekly from Italy.
“I’m about three kilos lighter than I was last year going into the Giro. I have one Grand Tour under my belt already so I know that I can finish this race and that’s already huge for the confidence.”
Former Tour de France champion Cadel Evans headlines the BMC squad that also includes Britain’s Adam Blythe and Steve Cummings, as well as Steve Morabito, Daniel Oss, Ivan Santaromita, Klaas Lodewyck and Danilo Wyss.
Evans has not identified the Giro as a major target, with his focus still firmly locked on the Tour, but racing there will be integral to his form later in the year and the Australian will be protected by teammates. Phinney has also thrown up Blythe’s name for the sprint stages.
There is a small chance, which is better than no chance, Phinney could again wear the maglia rosa after the team time trial, although that’s not the priority for the 22-year-old this year.
“These three week races are so important for bike riders because they’re just so incredibly unnatural that they change your body almost completely,” he continues. “You learn so much in these early couple of years. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop learning about myself, and about the sport, but I’m much more confident.
“I’m not quite as excited for my own personal success, I’m excited for the team’s aspirations with Cadel and I think we have a really great group. We have Adam Blythe coming in and I’m pretty committed to trying to get him through his first Grand Tour because I think it will change him as a rider in the same way it changed me.”
Phinney was down to compete at the Tour of Romandy, a traditional lead-in, last month but opted instead to stay at his Italy base and prepare. He was third in the weekend’s Giro della Toscana in what has thus far been a busy season including most of the Classics up to Paris-Roubaix where he finished 23rd.
“I had a good time racing this weekend. One of the races was really close to my house, GP Industria & Artigianato Larciano, and then Sunday was Toscana, which was a race I knew I could do relatively well in,” he said.
“I had a flash of thinking, ‘Oh man, I’m going to win this race.’ Then having two guys [Mattia Gavazzi and Ivan Rovny] come by me right at the end was a little bit heartbreaking, but it’s good too. I haven’t felt that way in a road race in a long time and I’m still missing that big professional road race win.”
Phinney is adept at time trialing – he won silver at his second senior world titles last season – but has downplayed his chances in the individual events at the Giro. The first is a 54.8km race against the clock on May 11, which will be important for the genuine pink jersey contenders. The second is a shorter 19.4km run to Polsa in the final week.
“The long time trial is a bit complicated because it is quite demanding, it’s got some hills and it finishes up like a 4K climb,” he said. “It’s not the perfect time trial for me, especially considering that [Sky’s Olympic champion Bradley] Wiggins will be around.
“If I have an opportunity I think it’s looking for a stage win somewhere whether it’s in a breakaway or select group sprint. [That’s] kind of the biggest goal other than just finishing the race outright.”