VALKENBURG, Netherlands (VN) — Taylor Phinney and Tejay van Garderen proved once and for all they are no longer riders who will someday be a force in the international peloton.
Wednesday’s TT performance — with Phinney just five seconds off gold and van Garderen just five seconds off the podium — confirms that the two are already major players in the pack. It’s no longer about what they can do someday. It’s the here and now.
“It’s been a season with a lot of near misses, so after the Olympics to come here to get second, I am very excited, even though I probably looked pissed on the podium,” Phinney said. “It’s painful to be so close to (winner) Tony Martin, but I have to be happy with my ride. I progressed a lot in longer time trials.”
It was only a year ago that many were criticizing Phinney as over-hyped goods, but this season he’s consistently delivered big-time results. Starting with a top 20 at Paris-Roubaix for the best-ever American debut on the cobbles, Phinney burned into May with the pink jersey and a prologue win at the Giro d’Italia.
He then reloaded for the Olympic Games. Rather than racing for 4km individual pursuit, a discipline where he was a two-time world champion before the UCI removed it from the Olympic program, Phinney worked hard to transform himself from a short, prologue-type rider into someone who could challenge for victory in 40km-plus time trials.
Phinney first revealed that transformation with fourth at the Olympics and confirmed it with second Wednesday on a hilly, challenging course that, on paper at least, did not play toward the big American’s strengths.
“I tuned my training more specifically toward longer time trials. I worked a lot on my position, with my arms, shoulders and helmet,” he said. “I just realized in time trials you have to in the pain cave for an hour. There’s never any point when you’re not in pain. You just hate life for awhile and then the finish comes and it’s over.”
Phinney blasted out of the gate Wednesday, setting the fastest split at 14.3km. That caught Martin off-guard and Phinney took it to the German all the way to the line. Many expected Phinney to stall up the final Cauberg climb, but he played it smart and kept some matches in his book before railing it across the line in 58:44.13.
Martin, who had passed a shelled Alberto Contador (Spain) with about 10km to go, had to give everything he had to keep his rainbow jersey, stopping the clock just 5.37 seconds faster than Phinney.
“I was dead at the finish line. I had to give 110 percent to win,” Martin said. “Some people said, with Wiggins and Cancellara not here, all I had to do was show up and collect my gold medal. It was very hard today and I knew it wouldn’t be easy. The last kilometer was the hardest of my career.”
That’s just how hard Phinney pressed Martin, who was all but untouchable in the time trials last season.
By the time Phinney emerged from his “pain cave,” he was happy with what he saw: a first-ever elite world championship medal on the road and just a few seconds off the win.
“I had the best time trial of my life, even better than the Olympics,” said Phinney, who lives most of the year outside Lucca, Italy. “It was all I could ask for today. I am progressing and getting better. Now I can look forward to Florence next year (site of the 2013 worlds), when I will be racing on home roads. That gives me big motivation going into the winter.”
Tejay van Garderen was also pleased with what he characterized as his best time trial of his career.
With fifth-place overall and the white jersey from the Tour de France, van Garderen came into the worlds with a goal of reaching the podium. He did so on Sunday when BMC Racing was second to Martin’s Omega Pharma-Quick Step squad in the team time trial. To be so close again did not leave him disappointed.
“Nobody likes to get fourth place, but this is the first fourth place I am happy with. It would have been nice to have gone five seconds faster and get a medal, but normally one-day time trials are not my thing,” van Garderen told VeloNews after the race. “I am more a stage race time trialer, so to confirm that I can do it on the day, that’s good for the future.”
Both Phinney and van Garderen came into Valkenburg with quiet ambitions to reach the podium.
“With (Fabian) Cancellara and (Bradley) Wiggins gone, we knew that the medals were a little bit open. Tony has not been untouchable like he was last year; we thought we could come away with it,” said van Garderen. “Phinney almost did. That was an impressive ride.
Much like Phinney, van Garderen reached a new level during 2012, reaching the Tour podium and posting strong results across the season. The fourth-year pro is quite the opposite of Phinney, who is developing into a one-day TT specialist. Van Garderen is honing his grand tour credentials, when time trials come in the middle of long battles stretched out over weeks of intense racing and recovery.
Fifth at the Tour this year — with two top-10 TT rides — confirmed that van Garderen could post strong time trial results as part of a three-week tour. Lining up for a one-day shot like the worlds is quite the different animal, one that the American has said doesn’t suit him.
His performance Wednesday will only fuel van Garderen’s ambitions for the future.
“I will play the lottery every year and hopefully one year I just have an incredible day. I am not a complete specialist on a one-day time trial, but you never know what can happen,” he said. “Every year I feel like I am getting better and getting stronger. I haven’t racked up a ton of wins, but I am getting closer, nipping at the heels. Maybe one of these years I will trade these top-fives and start popping for some wins.”
For Sunday’s men’s road race, Phinney and van Garderen will once again be the riders at the center of gravity.
“We’re going for it. I think the team is mostly rallied around me,” van Garderen said about Sunday’s road race. “We will see what happens on the day, but I will put my hand up and ask those guys for their help.”
Just in the early 20s, the pair is quickly becoming the focal point of U.S. cycling, for the future, and right now.