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A sleeper team. That’s what Taylor Phinney calls the six men who will represent the United States at its first home-field world championships in 30 years.
Not hiding under the covers, but flying under the radar. Aggressive, tactical, and ready to surprise. “We’ll be on the offensive, and make the race exciting,” Phinney told VeloNews from a training camp in Belgium Friday morning.
Phinney will be joined by BMC Racing teammate Brent Bookwalter, MTN-Qhubeka sprinter Tyler Farrar, Cannondale-Garmin freelancers Alex Howes and Ben King, and a sixth rider yet to be named.
None are huge stars. None will line up with five stars next to their name. But that doesn’t seem to worry them.
“We have a bit of a sleeper team. We kind of fly under the radar a little bit. But we all believe in each other and work well together,” Phinney said.
The calculus of worlds includes talent, of course, but also drive and cohesion. Can six riders from four (perhaps five, depending on the final selection) different teams come together on race day and work toward a single goal? Phinney thinks so.
“We have a pretty sweet road race team, all guys that I love to hang out with off of the bike, and also love to race with on the bike, so that’s kind of the best situation you can have with a team,” he said.
An aggressive ride, even if ultimately unsuccessful, would still be a step in the right direction for a U.S. men’s team that hasn’t seen a road race medal since 1993. The American team has struggled with a general apathy toward the world championships, as most American male stars shut off after the Tour de France.
No more, the new generation says. We are now in a renaissance of sorts, capped by the opportunity to represent on home soil. Speak to the riders and excitement for worlds is palpable. They are grateful for the chance, determined not to squander it.
This particular worlds is doubly important, as it will play a role in qualifying slots for the Rio Olympics next summer. Phinney revels in that extra pressure, he says.
“Its nice to have some pressure again, big pressure again, it’s been a while. When it’s truly crunch time, I always sort of dread that, but you also really appreciate that and thrive off it.”
The world championships have been a goal for Phinney since he began his long recovery from a horrific crash at the 2014 national championship road race. Getting back to his best for worlds was a target, firmly in his crosshairs for the last year. But even a few months ago, he wasn’t sure making the team would be possible.
“Even the end of last year, I was definitely pointing toward the worlds, but back then I didn’t know when I was going to come back to racing or how it was going to go,” he said.
Phinney will compete in both the road race and time trial. He hasn’t raced an hour-long TT for some time, he said, but performances at the Tour of Utah and USA Pro Challenge were encouraging. “My numbers in my long climbing at Utah and Colorado were better than they have been in the last couple years,” he said. “I’ve been putting in some work on the TT bikes here in Belgium, getting ready, trying to make selection for the team time trial as well. I’m confident. There’s always a chance.”
The Richmond road race course will be unpredictable, half cobbled classic and half American criterium. It’s just the sort of course that suits a team of opportunists. The time trial suits Phinney to a T, long and flat with a single, hard kicker at the finish. Phinney will throw everything at both.
“To be able to do both events, I’m just grateful for the timing and the opportunity,” he said.