Taylor Phinney (BMC) says he’s still hopeful he’ll be able to race the upcoming northern classics despite sitting on the sidelines so far through much of the 2011 season due to a nagging knee injury and a mild concussion.
Phinney is set to return to racing with Monday’s eight-stage Volta a Catalunya (Tour of Catalonia) in Spain and the 20-year-old is hoping to come out of the hilly Spanish tour with better legs that will position him for a highly-anticipated debut at Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix next month.
“I am still gunning for Flanders and Roubaix. We’ll see how Catalunya goes. After the race, I will be able to judge my fitness on where I am at,” Phinney told VeloNews on Wednesday. “BMC has such a strong classics team. If I am not at the top of my game, I will be the first to pull myself out of the hat, and let someone else who is stronger and be better for the team.”
Some preliminary start lists hitting the Web do not include Phinney’s name among BMC’s roster for Catalunya, but he says he’ll be there for the start Monday in Lloret de Mar.
“I have a plane ticket,” Phinney said. “I was told I was going to Catalunya. I talked to (sport director John) Lelangue today, and he said that I would be at Catalunya. Right now, I couldn’t be happier. I’m excited to get back to racing.”
BMC team officials said they will make a decision after Catalunya on whether or not Phinney’s ready to take on the rigors and demands of cycling’s most grueling one-day races at Flanders and Roubaix. Catalunya, which includes a hard, mountaintop finish in Andorra, will be a good test for Phinney’s fitness.
“He was disturbed a bit in training camp due to some problems with his knee, so he needs good volume and good intensity,” Lelangue said in a team release last week. “There are some really hard stages in Catalunya where he’ll be suffering, but this is the best way to get volume for one full week. Then we can re-evaluate if he can go to the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.”
The first few months of Phinney’s debut pro season haven’t gone quite as he would liked.
In January, he succumbed to tendonitis in his knee ahead of the team’s Spanish training camp and then he suffered a mild concussion in a training spill in Italy in February. So far, his only race has been the Tour of Oman, where he finished 112th overall.
“It was unfortunate timing when it happened. I tweaked something in the back of my knee and it turned into tendonitis. I was trying to come back and I pushed it too hard, so I wasted two weeks. I had to give it some time off the bike, but I made it back in time for Oman,” Phinney said. “Then I had a silly crash during a training ride in Lucca with Andrew Talansky (on February 25). We just bumped bikes and we both fell. I hit my head pretty hard, I was a little loopy for 20-30 minutes, but I got over it. Like I told Andrew, big trees fall hard.”
Phinney says he’s taking a philosophical view despite the early-season hiccups and is looking forward to racing next week in his first major European road race of his young career.
“I was pretty frustrated in the beginning, because I was excited to make my debut and hoping to come into the first races with the big fitness that I know I could have,” he continued. “But at the end of the day, I just sat back and realized that I cannot do anything about it, except be smart and not turn it into a big issue. My time will come; it might not be right away. I am in a better place now than I was a few weeks ago.”
Phinney, meanwhile, says he’s settling into the lifestyle of a professional. He’s living in Lucca, Italy, which is becoming a favorite among many of the new pros heading to Europe, with Talansky and Tejay Van Garderen among others who are now living and training there.
“I’ve really been enjoying training around Lucca. The roads are great here. I’m here with my girlfriend. I’ve been in Italy since Oman, we’ve been styling out our house and settling into the lifestyle in Italy. I love it here,” he said. “I’m in a good place right now. I am excited for the classics and for the fitness that Catalunya can give me for the classics.”