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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — American Taylor Phinney said he was “not overjoyed, but not overly disappointed” with his fifth-place finish at the world time trial championship in Florence, Italy, Wednesday, where he finished 2:08 behind winner Tony Martin of Germany.
Though he’s only 23, Phinney has had a storied career at world TT championships. He won world TT titles as a junior and U23 rider, he was the U.S. national TT champion in 2010, and he’s twice been world champion in the individual pursuit.
Last year, his second year racing at the elite level, Phinney finished second to Martin by an agonizingly close five seconds on an undulating 46-kilometer course in Valkenburg, Netherlands, seven weeks after finishing fourth at the Olympic time trial in London.
This time around, however, Phinney was unable to make the podium. The reasons were many.
This year’s TT start list as the strongest in recent memory, with both Martin and 2008 Olympic champion Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) boasting multiple world TT titles to their names, while Bradley Wiggins (Great Britain), who finished second to Martin on Wednesday, raced on a gold-accented bike as the reigning Olympic champion.
The course also played a factor. Though the flatter profile favored a powerful rider like Phinney, the length, 56.8km, was the longest he’d ever raced against the clock.
“I knew it was going to be long today and quite difficult,” Phinney told VeloNews at the finish in Florence. “It was about 15 minutes too long. I felt like I got into a good rhythm on the most difficult part of the course, which was the long, straight section. I was struggling all the way to the finish. It sort of favors the older guys who have a bit more diesel in their legs. That’ll come with time. I’ve realized that being successful in the longer time trials with the best in the world will take time.”
Preparation also played a role. A saddle sore — “complications from an injury,” he called it — prevented Phinney from spending the requisite amount of time on his TT bike. The Tour of Poland time trial, two months ago, was only the third race against the clock for Phinney this season.
“I had a lot of support coming into this from the [BMC Racing] team, especially the new sport scientist with the team, Daniel Healy, and Bobby Julich,” Phinney said. “They wrote the whole program for me a couple weeks out. It was definitely really difficult preparation, but I had to do something really quite extreme over the last four weeks to come here and be competitive.”
And though he said it likely hadn’t affected his place on the results sheet, Phinney dropped his water bottle on the first attempt to take a drink, about 20km in, meaning he raced for well over an hour, in 80F temperatures, without hydrating.
“[Lack of hydration] might have made a bit of a difference, but not 1:30, or whatever the difference was,” Phinney said. (He finished 1:22 behind Wiggins, 1:24 behind Cancellara, and 42 seconds behind fourth-place finisher Vasili Kiryienka of Belarus.)
Added together, those factors amounted to a fifth-place finish.
“For sure, I wanted to be on the podium,” Phinney said. “I thought I could be on the podium. I’ve done really, really good work over the last four weeks to get ready for this. I had a tough first half of the season and complications from an injury, and sickness at the Giro d’Italia, meant I couldn’t ride my time trial bike this summer. So, basically, I just got on it.”
Ultimately, Phinney said, he would have to accept the result for what it was.
“For the length and competition of guys who were here, I think it was decent. It wasn’t anything special, but I’m really happy with how I prepared for it,” he said. “I look forward to having a simpler season next year, with less injury and more ability to focus on the time trials. I really didn’t get to do many time trials this year and that was mainly due to my race program. Next year will be more about going to some time trials and trying to win some time trials, because that’s what I’m best at.”