Phinney rides emotional, four-hour solo quest at Tirreno

Taylor Phinney misses time-cut at Tirreno-Adriatico, but learns a lot about himself in the process

Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) rode through an emotional day in the cold rain at Tirreno-Adriatico on Monday, churning the pedals alone for four hours, thinking about his father, Davis Phinney, who lives with Parkinson’s Disease.

Phinney lost contact with the peloton partway through the 209-kilometer sixth stage around Porto Sant’Elpidio, Italy, and when his companions in the grupetto pulled their race numbers off, he was left to carry on alone. Phinney finished more than 35 minutes behind stage winner Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and officials time-cut him. The American had been targeting the final-stage time trial at San Benedetto del Tronto and was hoping for an exemption from the time-cut, but will have to re-focus ahead of the classics.

“Rules are rules and I respect that and respect [race organizer] RCS and respect the race. You know, today was an interesting stage. It was probably one of the hardest courses any of us have ever seen and maybe even a little too much, as [race director Michele] Acquarone said afterwards,” said Phinney. “I didn’t have the best of legs, but I wanted to finish. I came here for the last time trial, as well as some other goals like the first team time trial and helping out Cadel [Evans] and Thor [Hushovd], but was really aiming for this last time trial. To miss it tomorrow, yeah, it’s a disappointment.”

For Phinney, his four-hour solo venture turned into a ride of self-discovery.

“I thought about my dad a lot in the race and, you know, if he could kind of have one day, if he could have been in my shoes for that day, completely healthy — you know, he has Parkinson’s — if he was disease-free and he had to ride seven hours, four of those hours by himself in the rain, as hard as he could, he would have done that,” said Phinney. “He would have tried to finish the race.

“I thought about him a lot and that made me want to cry a lot in the race, but I held it in and kept going. I had a bit of a cry after the race. But only real men cry.”

BMC Racing director Fabio Baldato followed Phinney in the team car throughout the stage and the two set goals along the road. Phinney is known for his training exploits in the hills around his hometown of Boulder, Colorado, and is a two-time winner of the U23 Paris-Roubaix. He said that Monday’s stage was the hardest day he’d ever spent in the saddle.

“I didn’t make it, but I learned a lot about myself and what I can put myself through, so that’s the plus side I guess,” said Phinney. “It was a big day. It’s surprising what you can do to yourself sometimes.”

That lesson should help Phinney when he opens his classics campaign on Sunday at Milano-Sanremo. The third-year professional is targeting the front group in “la Classicissima,” where he finished in the peloton, 20:18 behind race winner Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) in 2012.

“One-day racing is really something I can wrap my head around,” said Phinney. “I want to improve on my performance last year, which was mediocre, and be there in the final with the star-studded team that we have. That’s my goal, to be up there in the front group with our big names.”

Phinney will head to Milan later this week, with the “big names” like Hushovd and world champion Philippe Gilbert for the first monument of the season. His father, Davis, will certainly be watching.