“This only happens every four years,” he said. “I don’t remember who got fourth place four years ago!”
After finishing fourth again on Wednesday in Hampton Court, this time in the Olympic time trial, Phinney may have just solidified a spot in the collective Olympic memory of the cycling community, even without taking a medal.
In his Olympic road debut Phinney out-performed riders like Philippe Gilbert and Sylvain Chavanel on the road, and Michael Rogers and Fabian Cancellara in the time trial; he took fourth in the 44km time trial, 50 seconds behind bronze medalist Chris Froome of Great Britain.
“When you look at the guys I was up against, I have to say that fourth is much better than the 15th place I took at the world championship in Copenhagen last year,” Phinney said. “But once again, I was so close to a medal.”
Phinney said he approached the Olympics differently than most riders; prior to Saturday’s road race, his last race day had been on May 27, the final stage of the Giro d’Italia, where he won the prologue and wore the maglia rosa for three days.
“I approached these Olympic Games more the way a swimmer, or a boxer, might have,” Phinney said. “Much differently than old-school cycling might dictate. I didn’t race. I went home to Boulder, Colorado, and worked with my coaches, Neal Henderson and Allen Lim. We had training camps with other riders, who were sort of like my sparring partners. I was able to enjoy being home, eating my own food, training on home roads, and doing specific work. And it paid off. If you’d told me two months ago that I would finish fourth in both of my Olympic events, I think I would have been pretty happy with that. But now that I’ve been so close… it’s bittersweet. I want more.”
Asked what positives he could take away from his second Olympic experience, Phinney conceded that, at 22, he must be content with riding with the best in the world.
“I was up there with the best in the world in a longer time trial, which is a distance where I hadn’t been comfortable before,” he said. “People may have labeled me the ‘next this’ or ‘next that,’ and to take fourth here is a big confidence booster.”
Then, as Brad Wiggins took the top step of the podium, Phinney paused to take in the moment.
“I would like to be the guy on the top step of the podium next time,” he said. “And I’d like to win at worlds once or twice between now and then. I just want to keep this rolling.”