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Phinney jazzed to return to first love — cobbles

Taylor Phinney says he's honored to have the chance to ride Tour of Flanders, and he hopes to someday ride again as team leader for Roubaix.

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ROESELARE, Belgium (VN) — A strong performance in Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem not only punched Taylor Phinney a ticket to Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), but it reminded him why he loves racing in Belgium.

“I was reminded a lot of why I really like this sport,” Phinney said Friday. “When I was younger, I fell in love with racing in Belgium. They were my kind of races, and I haven’t raced here in two years, and I’ve almost forgotten them. It was nice to be reminded what these races are all about.”

The call-up to start Flanders was a pleasant surprise for Phinney who’s been battling back from a horrific crash in the 2014 U.S. national championships. Sunday will mark his first monument since Paris-Roubaix in the spring of 2014.

Phinney, 25, was holding out for a start at Paris-Roubaix, but his strong ride in Gent-Wevelgem last weekend impressed BMC Racing enough to earn him a spot on the Flanders squad that’s riding for the win with Greg Van Avermaet.

“It’s a huge honor,” Phinney said. “All the work, and stress of taking care of my body, it’s nice to have that pay off. I am ready to work for the team, and to help Greg go for the win. We all believe in him. I’m jazzed to be part of that.”

Long workouts and daily, one-hour-plus physical therapy sessions are bearing fruit. Phinney said he’s committed to help on Sunday, but he hasn’t given up on dreams of winning the northern classics once again. He was twice a victor at the under-23 Paris-Roubaix.

“There’s a big difference from being there in the last hour of the race, and winning the race. I am going to these races in a supporting role,” he said. “Gent-Wevelgem gave me good hope for years to come that I will be able, once I have put the injury and recovery behind me, to look forward to these races again in the future.”

A start at Paris-Roubaix is also likely. After nearly two years in the darkness, Phinney can dream again.

Phinney on risks
In light of the recent tragic death of Antoine Demoitie, Phinney also had some interesting thoughts on racer safety. He was a victim of a nasty crash involving a motorcycle at the U.S. national championships in 2014, but admitted the issue is more complicated than people believe.

“I’ve thought about it with my own personal injury,” Phinney said. “For sure, [the motorbikes] take big risks, and it’s not OK, but many of the riders could do well by looking at the actions that they take in races. We start like mad in the neutral zone, guys cutting left and right, these massive risks already before the start.

“If you wanted a completely safe bike race, you would have a closed circuit with no cars,” Phinney continued. “I see a lot of unnecessary risks by the riders and a lot of pointing fingers, but I’ve looked at what I can do to avoid these dramatic situations. Since my crash, I hold back a little more, just to be safe, and I can still be at the right place at the right time in the race.”