Phinney better than ever ahead of classics opener

American classics hope says he came through the winter without gaining weight and is primed ahead of his Belgian debut this weekend

MILAN (VN) — Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) heads into the classics season in the best form of his life. He is healthy and comes out of the Tour of Qatar and Oman firing.

“I’ve finally made it through a winter without problems,” Phinney said. “I’ve never had such a good off-season. I’m healthy, happy, and relaxed.”

The 22-year-old helped Brent Bookwalter defend his race lead in the Tour of Qatar earlier this month. On stage 2, BMC Racing won the team time trial and gave Bookwalter two more golden days before Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) took over.

In Oman, Phinney tested his “new climbing legs” through the hills outside of Muscat. He did not challenge Chris Froome (Sky) for the overall, but he passed with flying colors. On the final day, he proved he still had it by sprinting for third.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was last year here, and that’s a good sign,” Phinney explained during the races. “I’m a lot skinnier; I lost a lot of weight over the Giro d’Italia and kept it down over the summer training for the Olympics. I went into the off-season with this goal of not gaining any weight and just coming into this season at something close to a race-weight. I still have a couple of kilograms to go.”

At six-foot-five, Phinney is no 115-pound Kenny Elissonde (FDJ), but he is light. Right now he is the same weight he was when he finished the Giro, 187 pounds, compared to 192 pounds at this time last year.

“I changed a lot as a bike rider after finishing the Giro, I lost a couple of kilograms throughout that race that I never gained back. Losing that extra bit of weight makes a pretty big difference,” Phinney said. “I worked really specifically on my TTing from then until after the Olympics and world championships. I think that even helped my climbing, just made me more of an all-around rider.

“I’m not a guy who’s going to win a mountaintop finish, but I’ve always been the one who’s been first to be dropped on big mountain stages. After the Giro and coming into the second part of the season, I was able to be more of a stable all-rounder. I ended the season at a pretty high level and stayed on top of things throughout the winter. I had a great, problem-free winter, which is something that I’ve never had over the past couple of years over my career.”

Phinney’s goal is to take his good form into the classics, including this weekend’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Het Nieuwsblad Circuit). He races with teammates Thor Hushovd and Greg Van Avermaet there. Afterwards, he races Strade Bianche (White Roads), the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and of course, Paris-Roubaix.

Phinney placed 15th last year in Roubaix. As an amateur, he won the under-23 version twice.

“[Qatar and Oman] is always a test, it’s always good to see where you are in relation to everyone else,” Phinney said. “A lot of classics riders are here. We are kind of just looking around, watching each other. I can say that I am proud of where I’m at … and I’m looking forward to keeping it going.”

Classics stars Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) both raced in Oman. Phinney said he got a good look at them.

“I lack their experience,” he said, “but physically I think I’m there.”