BMC manager Allan Peiper remains hopeful that Taylor Phinney will make an impact in the cobbled classics in spite of the illness that forced him to skip Milan-San Remo and has kept him sidelined since.
Phinney was provisionally pencilled in to return to BMC’s line-up at E3 Harelbeke, but the team instead decided to hold him back until Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem. The American is due to arrive at BMC’s classics base in Kortrijk on Friday evening.
“He’s coming in today for Gent-Wevelgem. He was feeling better yesterday in training and he’s coming up here full of motivation for the next couple of weeks and we’re glad to see him back,” Peiper told Cyclingnews in Harelbeke. “On Sunday he’ll be starting at Gent-Wevelgem, which is good.”
Phinney developed flu symptoms less than 48 hours before the start of Milan-San Remo, and while the decision to withdraw him from La Classicissima was a straightforward one, timing his return to action has been a more nuanced process. Concerns over the two-week gap to Phinney’s last race are countered by the desire to ensure that he is fully recovered before he re-enters the fray.
“You’ve got to find the balance. There’s no point in bringing him here if he’s not ready,” Peiper said. “I think it’s a fine line because he felt good out training yesterday but possibly a couple of days extra just to get really on top of it is important for him. We’ve still got a week to Flanders and two weeks to Roubaix to get a bit of work done, so hopefully he’ll be at the level.”
From BMC’s perspective, Phinney’s illness is all the more frustrating considering a fine start to the season that saw him win the inaugural Dubai Tour and perform strongly at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. “He’s been good, so hopefully it’s just a quick bounce back,” Peiper said. “He went very deep at Paris-Nice, so the sickness has probably put him back but I think he should be pretty fine and do a good job.”
With or without Phinney in the line-up, however, Greg Van Avermaet is BMC’s undisputed leader for the cobbled classics. The designation marks a change from BMC’s approach in recent seasons, where the team had a multi-pronged approach to the classics.
Under Peiper’s stewardship, however, there is more definition to BMC’s classics hierarchy, with Philippe Gilbert focusing on the Ardennes campaign and Van Avermaet – so often a foil to others in the past – elevated to the status of sole leader on the cobbles.
“I think he loves it,” Peiper said. “He loves the fact that he’s finally got leadership and he’s looking forward to taking that responsibility.
“He was good in Milan-San Remo, he attacked on the descent of the Poggio and got away there. In a race like that in such brutal conditions he showed that he’s really on top of his game and he’s our outright leader for the classics coming up, which makes sense and makes things quite simple, doesn’t it?”