Exclusive Interview: Taylor Phinney on his return to Paris-Roubaix

'I've realised the passion is still there'

As Taylor Phinney enjoyed a massage after completing the BMC reconnaissance ride of the Paris-Roubaix pavé, he is in a reflective and emotional mood.

Last year he was unsure if he would ever want to race again in Europe; last winter he was unsure if he would ever be competitive as a professional; two months ago he was unsure if he would manage to find the form to handle a tough Classic like Paris-Roubaix and secure a place in the BMC team.

As the hours tick down to the start in Compiegne on Sunday, he has found a lot of answers to his questions and cancelled many of the doubts that had filled his mind.

As the BMC soigneur removed the pain and fatigue from his legs, Phinney shared his thoughts and hopes for Paris-Roubaix with Cyclingnews.

Cyclingnews: Taylor, riding Paris-Roubaix was a goal you seemed to have set yourself during the winter. Does it feel good to have reached that goal, despite the pain and difficulty you’ve faced to be here?

Taylor Phinney: To be honest, I’ve kind of lost touch with the mentality I had a month ago, when just being able to come here and ride was a big goal. I was never really expecting to ride and ride so well at the Tour of Flanders and so things have changed and progressed. Now, going into Roubaix I’m feeling good and feeling it’s not just a race I want to finish. Instead it’s become something I really want to be a part of. But at the same time I’ve got to remember where I’m coming from. I’m just grateful to be riding Paris-Roubaix and having this opportunity.

I’ve had a lot of support from the team and I’m very grateful for that. They’ve backed me with the extra therapy work and given me a plan and race programme that really helped me to get here. Now I feel pretty good on my left side.

I even had a lot of fun riding the roads during our recon ride today. When I’m on the pavé, I always remember watching the race as a kid. The Paris-Roubaix route is still largely the same and it made me remember doing recon rides with the USA team as a Junior and then under-23, then for a couple of years as a pro. It was fun but I was also reminded how brutal those roads are but we had a good time. It was nice to be reminded of my initial passion for the Classics and got me pretty excited for the weekend.

CN: Are you concerned about possible bad weather? It was cold and windy today with nasty rain showers.

TP: I think the weather is supposed to hold up for Sunday. Let's hope so. We got a little wet on the final sector of cobbles today but for most of the day we were going for it, we were trucking. The guys were wound up like tight springs and ready to go. We had fun. We went pretty fast and I felt good with the accelerations. I can still feel the Tour of Flanders in my legs but we’ve got two days to go to recover more.

CN: Does riding Paris-Roubaix feel like a reward for all you have been through in recent times?

TP: It’s nice to arrive at an event that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, especially in the last couple of months and the winter. Last year I didn’t know if I was going to be able to comeback and ever do the Classics, so being here is a kind of ‘reward’ but it’s going to be a very painful reward.

Paris-Roubaix is the big show and it was nice to be reminded of the passion that I have for this race. I’d lost touch with that and I even thought I’d have to change my riding style on my left side after my crash and injuries. But I can feel I have that punch and power on the cobbles and that’s only going to get better as my left leg and left side gets stronger with specific work in the next few months and the rest of the season. That bodes well for the future.

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Waiting for the last 40km

CN: How much has the loss of Greg Van Avermaet as team leader due to his fractured collarbone at the Tour of Flanders change BMC’s strategy and the race for you?

TP: We were all hurting after the Tour de Flanders after we lost Greg; it was a blow for us. But it’s kind of nice that there’s a silver lining at Roubaix. We no longer have Greg as a big favourite for victory and so there’s a little bit less pressure on us. I see Daniel Oss as a real dark horse. Watch out for him! He’s really matured in the last couple of years and believes in himself a lot more. We believe in him for Sunday too. We’ve also got other young riders who will ride well. Jumpy Drucker had a strong ride in Flanders too and could be a surprise.

Personally, I hope to lay low in the first half of the race, try to read the race and get back to judging my efforts on the pavé. I hope to be there helping those guys out going into the crucial sectors of the race, in the last 40km of the race. That’s my big goal. Any result we get as a team will be great.

CN: Will it be important for you to reach the Roubaix velodrome, perhaps in a symbolic way?

TP: I finished the Tour of Flanders and that’s a lot more difficult for me than Roubaix, so I’m not thinking I won’t be able to finish. If you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago, I would have said I just want to finish. But now I’m back on it and want more than that. Now I want to be up there in the end and see what happens all the way to Roubaix. Being able to do that and do what I used to live for is important. Now I’ve realised the passion is still there.

CN: Will it be an emotional day considering everything you’ve overcome since the accident at the 2014 US national championships?

TP: I think that’s something I’ll feel more retrospectively when I'm at home and look back at the last two months.

I did my first races in the south of France in February and didn’t think my leg would be able to handle the Classics. So battling through that mental side, being really committed and doing what I needed to do every day, has been a lot to handle. Now I think it’s reaching a crescendo and it ends with Roubaix. Once it's over, and I hope it goes well, I think I’ll be able to look back and be proud of what I’ve achieved and appreciate that I’m back in the zone, back racing. It’s been better than what I ever thought it would be.

CN: Will you perhaps enjoy a beer on the BMC team bus post race?

TP: I’m always looking forward to a beer after a race…

I’m also looking forward to getting back into the gym and doing some special rehabilitation work. I’ve pushed through a lot of stuff in the last two months and so now I’m looking forward to riding the Tour of California, then US nationals again and racing in the US. That’s important to me, too. They will be a reward to me too just like Paris-Roubaix is.

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