DUBAI (VN) — For BMC Racing sport director Max Sciandri, Taylor Phinney’s victory in Wednesday’s opening stage at the Dubai Tour was more than just a win. In Sciandri’s view, the victory marks a clear before-and-after point for Phinney, who is still just 23.
“This is what we expected from day 1, that Taylor would enter through the ‘big door,’” Sciandri told VeloNews as he watched Phinney stride to the podium. “This is a big one. This is a victory against the big boys. This is what everyone expected, what he expected, what his family expected, what we expected.”
Perhaps Sciandri was getting carried away with himself, but the Italian former professional couldn’t help himself. Sciandri has been one of Phinney’s staunchest boosters and most consistent allies since the young American turned pro in 2011 with a weight of expectations on his shoulders and a cycling legacy to live up to.
Phinney’s TT win Wednesday was his first against the likes of Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) and Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), who hold seven world time trial titles between them.
Many were quick to point out that it’s February, that Cancellara is building for the classics, and that Martin was racing in windier conditions as the last starter. For Sciandri, that’s missing the bigger picture.
“This proves that Taylor can win big races,” Sciandri said. “It didn’t happen as quickly as he expected, but he never gave up. Taylor won a lot as an amateur on his pure strength. At the pro level, there is a lot more involved, and he needed to learn to race. Today, I could see everyone was preparing for the race very seriously. Believe me, Tony Martin wanted to win today more than anyone.”
Phinney, too, didn’t miss the significance of his first win of 2014. His 14-second win over teammate Steve Cummings puts Phinney in pole position to win the overall title, and provides a huge confidence boost as he enters his fourth pro season.
In fact, Phinney said Wednesday’s victory was proof that he’s well positioned to exploit behind-the-scenes changes within the BMC Racing organization. Last summer, team owner Andy Rihs jettisoned longtime sport director John Lelangue, giving ex-pro and seasoned director Allan Peiper free reign to remake the team.
Peiper moved quietly to make important changes in the off-season. First, he anointed Tejay van Garderen as the team’s outright Tour de France leader, and convinced 2011 Tour winner Cadel Evans he has better chances to win this year’s Giro d’Italia.
Peiper has also set clear goals and imposed stricter accountability on BMC’s cavalcade of stars. Riders like Phinney now have clear, tangible goals mapped out for the seasons, with Wednesday’s victory one of three time trials that the American is targeting in the first two months of the racing calendar.
And finally, Peiper has also introduced a new coaching platform, which brings all training and coaching in-house, and he’s hired full-time coaches, including ex-pro Bobby Julich. Phinney and van Garderen have both relocated from Lucca, Italy, to Nice, France, to be closer to Julich, who is working closely with both on training and coaching.
Phinney said the team’s strong performances in the opening races of 2014 are proof the changes are working.
“It’s working well, with Cadel at the Tour Down Under doing a great job [second overall], and I see a lot of the guys here, they look fitter and stronger than they have in the past,” Phinney said when VeloNews asked about changes at the team. “I am a very goal-setting type of person. The team has taken the time to set goals for me. … I am really happy with how things are going at BMC.”
Peiper has raised the bar across the board, and that includes Phinney, who signed a contract extension in 2013. The American said was ready to rise to the challenge.
“It’s been great for me,” Phinney said. “I get along well with Peiper. He has a great vision for the team, and ever since I started, I have been very science-oriented. I am always looking for the latest in aerodynamics, in training, in diet. I love being at the forefront of that. It’s about getting away from the old school and getting toward the new school.”