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Phinney gains cobbled experience in Flanders debut

The American finished 4:12 behind winner Fabian Cancellara in his Tour of Flanders debut

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OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — Taylor Phinney made his mark in his Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) debut. The American in BMC Racing’s red and black kit escaped, survived the front group’s elimination through the Flemish countryside, and learned some valuable lessons on Sunday.

“I learned that it’s a race that you can’t give up on,” 23-year-old Phinney told VeloNews after his post-race shower on the team bus. He finished 40th, 4:12 behind winner Fabian Cancellara of Trek Factory Racing.

“It’s just one of those races where if you keep believing, you can more than often stay close to the front.”

Phinney has won the under-23 Paris-Roubaix twice but has never competed in Flanders. He raced this year’s edition to gain fitness ahead of Roubaix next Sunday, for experience, and to help team captain Greg Van Avermaet — who eventually finished second.

Phinney made his mark when he escaped with 10 others 40 kilometers after leaving the start in Bruges. The 6-foot-5 Phinney led the breakaway over several cobblestone sectors and up several of the bergs that dot the countryside east of Oudenaarde.

On the famous Eikenberg, Kanarieberg, and Paterberg climbs, Phinney sat in the driver’s seat while others slipped away. The escape was reduced to six midway into the stage and to three — Phinney, Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge), and Stig Broeckx (Lotto-Belisol) — ahead of the final 50km circuit.

“I knew that I was one of the strongest guys of the breakaway so I worked hard and I wanted to stay away as long as possible,” Phinney explained. “I wanted to stay away until the Koppenberg, which we barely did.”

Phinney spent nearly 177km out front, until there were 43.5km remaining. Once the main group bridged, he briefly helped teammate Marcus Burghardt and saw off Van Avermaet to second place.

His experience should serve for future editions of Flanders, which Phinney said he wants to win.

“It makes it a lot less stressful to be in the front and to take the climbs at good speed and not have to worry about positioning before the climbs. It was a great way to see the whole course,” added Phinney. “It’s one of those races that I have a passion for.”

He finished talking and returned to eating his plate of risotto the team’s chef prepared. He said he would probably skip Scheldeprijs on Wednesday as planned and focus solely on Paris-Roubaix.

BMC performance director Allan Peiper stood outside the bus as Phinney talked. He agreed that Phinney is better adapted to the rougher and flatter roads in Northern France but said that Phinney should keep Flanders on his radar.

“He’s a good classics rider, he’s a good everything rider, he just has to start to get the score on the board,” Peiper said. “We have confidence. He was seventh in Milano-Sanremo last year, so he can do the distance. He has the legs. It’s just that we need to get the pieces into place at the right time. He’s only 23, it takes a while to learn the races.”