The president of BMC Racing Team, Jim Ochowicz, is enjoying some successful days at the Giro d'Italia with his rider Taylor Phinney. It has been 27 years since Ochowicz brought his first American team 7/Eleven to the Italian Grand Tour. That was one year before Phinney's father Davis became the first rider from the US to win a stage at the Grande Boucle.
"I'm happy that I can still bring a US team to race in Europe," Ochowicz told Cyclingnews in Herning after Phinney successfully defended his first pink jersey in stage 2. "It means we've had an impact on the sport and US cyclists have played a big role in the past 25 years." Andy Hampsten was the first American to wear the pink jersey and win the Giro d'Italia in 1988.
"It was exciting to ride the Giro in 1985," said Ochowicz. "We knew nothing about cycling at this level, and no one knew who we were. The organizer loved having us racing because as a US team, we were unique, and yet, we won two stages! Any of the 22 teams here at the 2012 Giro d'Italia would be happy with two stages wins." Ron Kiefel won stage 15 from L'Aquila to Perugia, followed by Hampsten's victory in the 58km stage 20 from Saint-Vincent to Valnontey di Cogne in the Valle d'Aosta.
"It led us to win the Giro with Hampsten in 1988," said the Milwaukee-born cycling entrepreneur. "That's how the Giro has been big for American cycling. It's been the stepping stone for us, like this year's Giro is the stepping stone for Taylor's career right now." At the age of 21, Phinney is the youngest leader of the Italian race since the late Laurent Fignon in 1982.
"I probably met Taylor for the first time when he was six months old," Ochowicz said. "My first recollection of him was when my family and his family met in Beverly Hills. Taylor and my son are the same age. They were about two years old at the time. The first time I saw Taylor on a bike, it was at the Tour de France when [his mum] Connie and Davis conducted a bike tour - he was 11 or 12 years old. I saw him a few times riding for the US national team as a junior. Once, it was at Paris-Roubaix. He had crashed. I gave him a pass to access the VIP area and watching the pros coming into the velodrome later."
Ochowicz eventually attracted Phinney to BMC two years ago. He had been riding for the Trek-Livestrong squad. "He's a similar type of rider as Fabian Cancellara: he's got speed, power, confidence, talent, and he works hard too," said Ochowicz. "He's extremely exciting, but I wouldn't say he's the most exciting rider I've had. Lance was exciting, too! I don't want to compare people."
Ochowicz prefers to avoid planning too much of his protégé's future. "For me, and for him also, finishing this Giro will be a big step in his career. Participating is one thing, but finishing is another one. Wherever it is, I don't think he'll finish in first place overall."
"I don't know how long he'll keep the pink jersey. Today he almost lost it because of a crash. Cycling is too unpredictable. The team time trial will be an issue, either to defend the jersey or to get it back."