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Phinney gets first Flanders nod since 2014 crash

Taylor Phinney says he's "really humbled" to race in the annual cobblestoned monument two years after a serious crash.

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ZOTTEGEM, Belgium (VN) — It’s been nearly two years, but Taylor Phinney will race in his first monument since his injury at Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders).

The 25-year-old is back on the cobbles this month, riding to an impressive 33rd at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. That ride and his improving form earned him a spot on BMC Racing’s Flanders lineup captained by pre-race favorite Greg Van Avermaet.

“I didn’t expect to race Ronde van Vlaanderen, but my performance at Gent-Wevelgem was a pleasant surprise,” Phinney said in a team release. “I’m really humbled to line up at one of the biggest races of the year with such a stellar team.”

Phinney’s once-promising cobbles career was sidelined after his devastating crash at the U.S. national championships in May 2014. That spring he rode all the major northern classics, finishing seventh in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, 22nd at Gent-Wevelgem, 40th at Flanders, and 30th at Paris-Roubaix.

After a long recovery, Phinney returned to racing last summer and said he was surprised to gain selection for BMC’s deep cobbles squad for Flanders. A solid performance would put him in pole position to return to Paris-Roubaix next month.

Phinney rode into a breakaway in the first stage of the Three Days of De Panne on Tuesday, but he did not start Wednesday’s second stage in order to prepare for Flanders. Phinney will be riding to help Van Avermaet, who is overcoming a slight cold and should be one of the top favorites for victory Sunday.

“We have a strong classics team, so of course Ronde van Vlaanderen is an important race for us,” said BMC sport director Fabio Baldato. “I think we have shown since the beginning of the season in Qatar and Oman, and then in the early classics, that we know how to race aggressively and that we can always be up the front, and that’s what we hope to do this Sunday.”

Van Avermaet has stepped up the past two seasons in the classics and seems destined for a major victory. A winner at Omloop Het Nieuwsblat and of a gritty stage at Tirreno-Adriatico this spring, Van Avermaet hopes to improve on his Flanders third from last year and second from 2014.

“I hope that I can rest and recover well this week from my recent illness and be back at 100 percent on the start line on Sunday,” Van Avermaet said. “I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.”

BMC Racing for the Tour of Flanders

Marcus Burghardt (GER)
Jempy Drucker (LUX)
Stefan Küng (SUI)
Daniel Oss (ITA)
Taylor Phinney (USA)
Manuel Quinziato (ITA)
Michael Schär (SUI)
Greg Van Avermaet (BEL)