ROUBAIX, France (VN) — Two victories at the under-23 Paris-Roubaix set Taylor Phinney (EF Education First-Drapac) up for a career of high expectations on the French pavé. Sunday in Roubaix, Phinney finally claimed his first ever top 10 in the race, finishing eighth in the velodrome.
It has been a long road for Phinney to get to this point. A crash nearly ended his career back in 2014. Although he battled back to continue racing at the top level, one-day success remained elusive. Even as of midway through this classics campaign, he appeared to be destined for another quiet spring. Spending most of Paris-Roubaix next to the heaviest classics hitters in the peloton, however, offered a long-awaited confirmation for Phinney.
“I feel like I keep getting pounded in these races, just getting left off the back. It’s nice to finish off this little block with like, ‘Yeah, I am a good bike racer. Sweet,’” he said after Paris-Roubaix.
The strong showing in the “Queen of the Classics” was by no means Phinney’s first notable result since his horror crash at the road nationals nearly four years ago. He won a stage at the USA Pro Challenge in 2015, 15 months after shattering his leg. He rode to the national time trial championship in 2016.
Nevertheless, after his 2014 crash, he had yet to register even a top 30 in a major spring classic — until Sunday. He spent much of the 257-kilometer trek from Compiègne to Roubaix alongside the top pre-race favorites. After the attack of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Phinney even found himself off the front of the main chasing group before getting caught and ultimately dropped.
He slotted into the next group on the road and was the second fastest out of the selection, good enough for eighth in the final standings. It wasn’t a win or even a podium. It was another step along the road toward being the classics contender that many expected he would be at the start of his career.
“I make a comeback every year at this point,” he joked before acknowledging the importance of the moment. “I just got top 10 at Roubaix. I’m pretty friggin’ stoked.”
The 27-year-old American said that he set a goal of landing among the Roubaix top 10 just two days prior to Paris-Roubaix. Although he registered DNFs at E3 Harelbeke and Dwars door Vlaanderen and finished in the triple digits at Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders, he finished Scheldeprijs in the lead group.
Lying in the infield of the Roubaix velodrome, Phinney pointed out that hellingen of De Ronde and its various tune-up races didn’t suit him quite as well as the pan-flat profiles of Scheldeprijs and Paris-Roubaix.
“There’s no hills in this race. I’m 85 kilos,” he said. “Sep [Vanmarcke] is 78 kilos. All these dudes are a good eight, nine kilos lighter than me. When we’re going up climbs, that’s the equivalent of 18 full water bottles.
“Yeah, I can push watts but that’s a lot of extra watts. I try to do what I can with my weight, but I can’t get too skinny or else my body just doesn’t work. So this is my sh—t, I guess is what I’m saying.”
Phinney was pleasantly surprised with the final day of his own spring classics campaign. Nevertheless, he was clear that the real objective had been putting teammate Vanmarcke atop the Roubaix podium.
After he rolled onto the infield, Phinney laid on the ground recovering quietly for several minutes as journalists gathered around him. Before he said a word to the media, he asked EF’s press officer, “Where did Sep finish?”
The Belgian rolled home sixth on the day.
Phinney tried not to dwell too much on his personal victory when the day’s ultimate goal went unachieved.
“I think we wanted to win today, so it’s too bad that we didn’t, but I think that Sep rode as well as he could given the conditions,” Phinney said.
His team may not have secured the big victory it sought on the cobblestones this spring, but Phinney can go into the summer knowing he was strong enough to find daylight on the five-star cobbles of Mons-en-Pévèle. Eventually, he’ll have time to figure out what that means for his career, although that’s not easy to do when you’re caked in mud and rubbing out cramps in your thighs after six hours on the bike.
That doesn’t mean Phinney didn’t bring his sense of humor with him into the Roubaix velodrome.
“It’s pretty rad, but at the end of the day, nobody really cares if you get top 10 at Roubaix,” he said. “I care, I think it’s sweet, but George Hincapie was second or third, and then it was just like, ‘When’s George going to win Roubaix?’ So I guess I get to look forward to that curse.”