I didn't know that I had to go to the Track World Cup in Copenhagen, Denmark, until about two weeks before the race. I had been hoping to qualify for World Championships just on the points I had accumulated from the Olympics and the National Championships, but after seeing where I was in the rankings following the Beijing World Cup (19th, and they only take 24), I knew that not going to Copenhagen would be a big risk in my quest for the World Championships.
So that was that. My coach called to tell me I had to go. Copenhagen, after all, had left a very sour taste in my mouth after last year's encounter.
The 2008 Track World Cup scene had unfolded just as I had wanted it to. I won the World Cup in LA, my home track, and was only one point off of winning the World Cup overall. I had enough points in both the UCI World rankings and Track World Cup overall that I had secured a spot for the Worlds in Manchester, England. It meant that going to the 2008 World Cup in Copenhagen was a trip across the pond I could miss altogether. But I was one point away from a very prestigious World Cup overall winner title, and an automatic qualification to the Olympic Games, which was what I had been gunning for the whole entire season. So, of course, I decided to go.
"It was hell and it had only just begun." - Phinney on his 2008 trip to Denmark.
The race was somewhere in the middle of February last year. Right at the beginning of February I got sick with a fever: head cold, sore throat and very swollen lymph nodes. For those of you who have experienced these symptoms, you probably know exactly what I was ill with, but for those of you who don't, I won't tell you just yet. I was out sick for a week. When I started feeling better I went to the LA track to try and whip myself into shape.
I didn't have a clue as to what I had, or what was going wrong with me, but I was determined to get those two points and win the overall. I had always heard Denmark was really nice too... 'I'm sure once you get there, you'll hang out with your buddies, feel good and crank it out,' is what I kept telling myself. My Mom came with me the whole trip. She stayed with me in LA, while I tried to train, and she flew to Denmark with me.
The flight to Denmark was one of the worst flights I've had. I was nervous. My lymph nodes in my neck were all swollen and my throat began to ache. Every swallow took my moral and motivation to race down a very big notch, until there was nothing left. By the time we arrived I was full-on sick again. Denmark was colder than Colorado, I didn't see the sun once and we didn't even have a restaurant in the hotel. Not to mention the beds in our hotel were about a foot and a half wide.
I never felt better, but I put that out of my mind and tried to focus. I actually felt OK on the track for the one-kilometre and two-kilometre efforts I tried, and by race day I was completely oblivious to my body's suffering. My goal was a 4:22, which would be a personal best by two seconds. Ridiculous now that I think of it. I remember getting ready to get in the gate and Chris Boardman coming up and introducing himself to me. Chris Boardman, the greatest pursuiter ever was going to take time out of his day to introduce himself and watch me race. Afterwards, that just added to the embarrassment.
I set out flying and knew by the second lap that I didn't have what it took. I flat-out told myself that I couldn't do it. And I didn't. The stadium was eerily quiet and I could only hear my mom yelling for me. It makes me feel sick to the stomach even to this day thinking about that race. With eight laps to go (halfway), I was dying. It was the worst I've ever felt in a pursuit. I was sick as a dog and not fit at all. I got 10th with a 4:31.
We're only half-way into hell. The 10th place got me one point for the overall standings, meaning I had tied for 1st. Did I win? Nobody could tell me, and the way the rules were written, not even the person who wrote them could understand them – typical. I sat in the velodrome for the next five hours trying to find out if I had won or not. If I had, it would've turned the whole nightmare on its head. So I waited and waited, and finally I got an answer.
'Congratulations Mr. Phinney, you won!' I was so happy. I went to put my skinsuit on for the donning of the white World Cup overall leader jersey on the top step of the podium. When I got back, I waited in the seating area. The official who had told me I had won came back over. 'I'm sorry, we have made a mistake. You got second. Congratulations though!'
There I was, with my skinsuit on, ready to get on the podium. I had been told I won, but now apparently not. What a trip. I've always been a believer of the saying 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger,' but this was too much. We disputed it, but knew we couldn't win. Copenhagen sucked.
From then on, anything related to Denmark was crap in my mind. I told myself I'd never go back... I was in the deepest regions of hell.
"This year is the start of something."
Upon returning stateside I took a blood test, only to find out I had Mononucleosis, an infection usually caused by the Epstein-Barr Virus. It is an illness that sticks with you for a very very long time. And I had just raced a World Cup with it. A time of 4:31 isn't actually that bad now that I think of it.
By February 2009, I had put last year's nightmare behind me. I was stronger from it and was actually looking forward to racing an individual pursuit. It is, after all, the event I feel I was born to compete in, and win.
My preparation for Denmark was unlike anything I had done before. I went to a team pursuit camp with the national team for a week where I ended up doing a lot of base miles and then my own road team camp with Trek-Livestrong, which was more base mile work. Denmark didn't cross my mind much, but when it did I knew I was going to win, I had to.
I had so many motivating factors going into it and good base fitness. I had the redemption factor from last year, I had the fact that guys close to my age were going a lot faster than my best time, including Jack Bobridge and my new teammate Jesse Sergent. Not to mention my World Record had just been broken by some kid in Australia.
I had a lot to prove to myself and to the world that last year I didn't know what I was doing, but that this year I wasn't playing around. This year is the start of something, I told myself. There might be people out there who can go really fast, but I can go faster.
With that mentality I went to Copenhagen. I raced to prove myself – I was finally here, and I am here to stay. I was planning on a 4:18. But halfway through I accepted the pain and went faster. I went faster then anyone else in the world has gone in the last kilometre of a pursuit.
I did a 4:15.223. I did it on base miles and on an incredible mentality and focus. In the final I smoothly rode my plan, saving some for the kilometre time trial the next day, where I rocked a 1:01.6 just for "fun".
I think I can honestly say that Copenhagen, Denmark, has officially been 'slayed'. Revenge is sweet.
See you at Worlds in Poland.