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After an illness, Phinney eyeing TT win in Argentina

New approach to the classics for BMC Racing will give Phinney a shot at team leadership come the cobbles

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VILLA MERCEDES, Argentina (VN) — Call it stomach flu, food poisoning, or Montezuma’s Revenge, but Taylor Phinney and several other riders at the Tour de San Luís ended up making race weight the wrong way in Argentina during the days leading up to the race’s start.

Omega Pharma-Quick Step setup man Alessandro Petacchi was hit with stomach illness and fever on Sunday night, and though he took the start of stage 1 in San Luís on Monday, he was forced to abandon after only an hour.

Petacchi’s timing was unfortunate; several BMC Racing riders, including Phinney and Dominik Nerz, were felled by similar symptoms two days earlier, and though they missed out on Sunday’s team presentation, they were already on the mend by the time the start gun was fired Monday.

Losing precious fluids before a race that started in 100-degree heat is far from ideal, but Phinney didn’t seem too worried prior to Monday’s stage 1.

“I’m a little tired, but I’ll pick up. I’ll be okay in no time,” he said. “Nerz had it a bit worse. There’s something going around in general, but you get that when traveling to a foreign land. There’s also a stomach flu going on at home, so maybe it’s just a seasonal thing. I weighed in [Monday morning], and I’m not too much lighter, so I’m not terribly worried. And I’m not just sitting by myself, I’ve got a team doctor worrying about me, giving me salt tablets, taking care of my hydration.”

Though he named Movistar’s Adriano Malori as a potential threat, Phinney is the overwhelming favorite to win the flattish 19.2-kilometer stage 5 time trial on Friday. (Other riders at the Tour de San Luís who can do damage against the clock include Astana’s Fredrick Kessiakoff and Vincenzo Nibali.)

“I expect Malori to go quite well,” Phinney said. “You never know at this race. Last year there were two random Argentinean riders who got into the top five on the time trial. The guy who won last year, [Orica-GreenEdge rider] Svein Tuft, is not here. But yeah, I think I have a very good shot at wining. That’s what I’ve been preparing for this winter, to come here and win. Even with the stomach bug I remain confident, mainly because it’s not until Friday.”

Though he’s excelled in colder, wetter conditions, Phinney said he’s not overly concerned about racing in the extreme heat in Argentina, partly due to a winter spent training in Solana Beach, California, on the northern coast of San Diego County.

“I’m not a heat rider. When it comes to extreme temperatures, I don’t prefer the heat,” he said. “The first few days we were here, it was about 105 degrees, and I really suffered. But when it’s in the mid-90s, I’m not too bad. I won’t be putting out my best power in that kind of heat, on a climb, in direct sunlight, but I’m not too worried about the heat. I spent the month of December in San Diego, where it got into the mid-80s.”

After San Luís, Phinney’s race schedule will include the inaugural Tour of Dubai, where he’ll race for the overall win, the Tour of the Mediterranean, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and Paris-Nice, where he will ride in support of longtime friend Tejay van Garderen, who aims to win the overall.

After a push at the spring classics, Phinney will not return to the Giro d’Italia, where he’s raced the past two years, but instead he will race in the United States, at the Amgen Tour of California and the U.S. national road and time trial championships, where he said he’ll aim to leave with a pair of stars-and-stripes jerseys. Phinney has been national time trial champion once, in 2010.

From there, assuming all goes well, Phinney will start his first Tour de France, in Yorkshire, England, in July.

One question mark on his race schedule is Milano-Sanremo, which has added a new climb, the Pompeiana, between the traditional final two climbs, the Cipressa and Poggio. Last year Phinney finished an impressive seventh, in terrible, icy conditions that forced the race organizers to eliminate two key climbs, the Passo del Turchino and Le Manie, by having riders re-board their team buses to drive around the climbs.

“I definitely love that race,” Phinney said. “I’ll be living a bit closer to the course now, in Nice, so I’ll have the ability to go check it out. It’s a bit of a different course, but I think with the preparation I did this winter, where my weight will be three months from now, will be a big determining factor. I should be able to make that team. It could be more of a selection than normal, but I hope to be on that team.”

Either way, Phinney will be racing on the cobblestones during the hallowed spring classics of E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, and Paris-Roubaix. Whether or not he’ll be riding the cobblestones as a protected team leader, or in support of teammate Thor Hushovd, is something he said would be decided much closer to race date. A winner of the junior and under-23 versions of Paris-Roubaix, Phinney finished 15th in his elite debut, in 2012, and finished 23rd last year after he expended too much energy on an attack through the Arenberg Forest.

“We’re approaching most races a little bit differently, from the sports science side of things, so we will have the ability to look at training files and general fitness to determine a team leader for most of the classics,” Phinney said. “Whether that’s me or Thor, we should go into it with one man as our leader. Of course we should have options. I’m not going to say now that I’ll be the leader, or anyone will be the leader. We have a lot of strong dudes, and all I can do is the best I can do until then, by proving myself in some other races.”

A time trial win in San Luís would be the perfect first step in laying out that proof.