A conversation with Taylor Phinney: ‘The only pressure I feel is pressure I put on myself’

Taylor Phinney is taking it slow in his rookie pro season and that’s just the way BMC wants it.

Taylor Phinney is taking it slow in his rookie pro season and that’s just the way BMC wants it.

Taylor Phinney at this year's Tour of Oman. | Graham Watson photo.
Taylor Phinney at this year's Tour of Oman. | Graham Watson photo.

The 21-year-old has been hampered by a knee injury and has only raced the Tour of Oman so far this year. Phinney has been recovering and BMC team officials told VeloNews on Wednesday that a decision will be made this weekend on his upcoming racing schedule.

BMC team officials have said from the start that they don’t want to put too much pressure on Phinney, especially in light of the huge media and fan expectations thrust upon him. In an interview with VeloNews earlier this year, Phinney said the only pressure he feels is what he puts upon himself. Here’s what Phinney had to say about why he chose BMC and what his plans are for the 2012 London Olympic Games:

VeloNews: John Lelangue told us that the team will not put any pressure on you in your rookie year, but it seems like you’re putting pressure on yourself?

Taylor Phinney: John Lelangue and all the directors have been trying to hold me back and not let me get too excited. It’s easy for me to get too excited, and train too hard, and do the wrong things, they’re good at holding me where I need to be. We have Max Sciandri, who’s the director of the young guys. We live in Lucca, Italy; he’s been taking care of us. It’s a great support structure. I know if anything goes wrong, the guys on the team are the ones I can trust. I am very excited to make this next step. I know at least the team is not putting pressure on me to do anything huge these first couple of years. I am going to be putting some pressure on myself to do something special. It’s nice to have a team dynamic where they’re telling me to ‘take your time; we need to develop you into a rider who can be at your best.’

VN: There are a lot of expectations about you, how do you handle that?

TP: It’s an interesting aspect of just being me. There’s a lot of talk of the next big ‘whoever.’ All I can say to that is that I am completely different than any other rider. Everyone is different. I am going to do my best to be the best Taylor Phinney who’s ever ridden a bike. There is outside pressure, but the only pressure I feel is pressure I put on myself. That is the biggest motivator for me. As long as I can go out and achieve my goals and make myself happy, be content with what I have achieved, I can be happy.

VN: What is your top goal for your rookie season?

TP: The big goal is just to learn from the big wealth of knowledge that Team BMC can provide me. At the same time, any sort of prologue or time trial, try to be out there and see if I can pull out a win. Or if it comes down to a sprint situation, then if I am the selected sprinter at that race, I will do my best to be up, top-10, top-5, maybe for the win. It’s really just doing what the team tells me.

VN: What races are you most excited about starting this year?

TP: If I get to do Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, those are the biggest races I am looking forward to. They’re always exciting and my favorite kinds of races, the races I’d like to be able to win as I get older. Just being there to have an opportunity to show myself is very exciting. After the classics, I’ll do Tour of California and nationals. Beyond that, we’ll reassess, then we’ll see what’s best for me. Then there are the worlds for the TT and the road race. Maybe I can help Tyler Farrar to sprint to the win and maybe I can try to win the time trial.

VN: How important was Jim Ochowicz in your decision to join BMC?

TP: He communicated a lot with my parents even before he was interested in getting me on the team, because they’re really good friends. Och used to be my dad’s manager on 7-Eleven, he’s been a longtime friend of the family. We would go on vacation with him, as well as Max Testa, who’s the team doctor; he’s also a very good family friend. It was a little bit full-circle with him being involved here, and me turning pro with Jim, with my dad racing with Jim in his later years. He’s a great guy and a really good friend. He originally came to talk to my family and me in August of last year, just to sort of lay it down, what the team is about, what BMC could do for me. It was really, really impressive.

VN: What most interested you in signing with BMC?

TP: The thing that I was really looking for in a pro contract was more than one year. I wanted security for a couple of years. With the problem with RadioShack was that their contract ends, and I wasn’t sure if they were going to re-up. With the big focus on the 2012 Olympic Games, I wanted to be on the same bike, and not have to worry about contract issues 7-8 months before the Olympic Games. That was the main selling point, was longevity. Also the way BMC works; he told me about the new guys coming to the team, guys like Van Avermaet, Quinziato, classics guys I can look up to. It was the better choice for me when it came right down do it.

VN: How many other offers did you have on the table?

Despite moms doubts, Phinney earns the world U23 time trial title in 2010.
Despite mom's doubts, Phinney earns the world U23 time trial title in 2010. | Graham Watson photo

TP: It was very flattering, the amount of offers that came in from different teams. Trek got wind that I might not be staying with RadioShack, and they were really pushing the Leopard-Trek team. With BMC being an American team and Leopard-Trek still at that point in time … I didn’t know much about it. We were pressed on time. I am still very happy with my decision to come to BMC. Most of the ProTour teams offered me a contract. Once one team heard that another team was interested, it was sort of like a game to offer. I was very flattered. In my mind, it was BMC, RadioShack or stay with Trek on the Luxembourg team.

VN: Right now you’re focusing on one-day races and time trials, but some have suggested you could develop into a grand tour rider, do you believe that’s possible?

TP: There are people when they mention me they also mention me winning the Tour de France. Right now, I don’t have the climbing ability to really back any of those claims. You never know, 10-15 years down the line, you lose a lot of bone density; lose a lot of weight, the muscle fibers change. I am never one to say no to anything. I am not going to come out next year and win the Tour de France, that’s for sure. I could be up there in some of the stages, sprints, time trials, that’s if I do the Tour in the next couple of years.

VN: Some people compare you to Fabian Cancellara, do you view him as a type of rider you’d like to become?

After winning gold in the TT, Phinney tied for bronze in a now famous too-close-to-call finish in the road race.
After winning gold in the TT, Phinney tied for bronze in a now famous too-close-to-call finish in the road race.

TP: He is one of my biggest idols. He’s a guy who I can look at what I do best, my strengths, and I can see those strengths in the way he rides. I am looking forward to racing against him and looking forward to challenging him over the years. He’s a great rider, on his way to becoming a legendary rider. If I could be like Fabian Cancellara when I am his age, I would be very happy with the way my career had gone.

VN: The individual pursuit is no longer an Olympic discipline, do you plan to race the omnium instead in London?

TP: I’m bummed that they pulled the individual pursuit as an Olympic sport because that seems to be one the reasons why I was put on this earth. The U.S. doesn’t have a team pursuit program and we’re not sure if I will race the omnium. Right now I want to be a road bike racer, that’s where my future lies, that’s where my heart is. We’re thinking that the time trial might be a better option (than running the multi-event omnium track event). I beat Levi (at U.S. nationals) and he was third in Beijing, so if you do the math …

VN: Do you remember when you made the decision to try to become a professional bike racer?

TP: I went to the 2005 Tour de France with my dad. We got to follow the race for two weeks. We had a press pass, just my dad and I. We were staying at random hotels, just sort of bonding, having a really good time. I was able to go to the start village every morning; I was able to see the finish close up. I got very jazzed up in the sport of cycling, and thought it was something I could be pretty good at, based on my genetics. That’s when I decided. My dad went to make a big case to Jonathan Vaughters and they put me on their junior program, the rest is history.

VN: Who’s your biggest fan, you mom or your dad?

TP: My mom is the biggest fan of my personal health, in my personal well-being. My dad gets most excited when I win things. My mom always thinks I am not going to win something I want to win. Going to the worlds, ‘no, mom, it’s OK, I feel really good.’ Afterward, she said, ‘I really didn’t think you were going to win that race.’ I said, ‘Mom, relax!’