After a successful first race back from injury at the Tour of Utah, BMC's Taylor Phinney said Sunday that he is excited to be competing this week in his home state of Colorado at the USA Pro Challenge.
"It's kind of just dawning on me today that it's really going to happen and I'm going to be able to race the USA Pro Challenge," he said during the pre-race press conference in Steamboat Springs.
After more than 14 months out of competition while recovering from severe injuries to his left leg, Phinney made his return to competition in Utah, where he finished third on the first stage and featured in the final day's breakaway. Phinney said his first race back went better than expected, giving him a boost of confidence for this week's race.
Although he's not quite 100 percent back to full strength, Phinney said he's looking forward to putting on a good show for fans in the state where he grew up and currently lives.
"When I say that I'm not 100 percent, I mean that my left leg is not quite as strong as my right leg," he said. "But there are times when my right leg can compensate and bring my level to – my power output – to a level where I can contend for a stage."
"With any injury this severe it takes up to two years to get that strength back when you do experience extreme atrophy of muscles and especially big muscle groups like the quads and the calves. Unfortunately for me, that's pretty much all we use."
Phinney said he is at the race largely to test his own legs and to help his team, which has a multi-pronged strategy for the general classification with Rohan Dennis, Brent Bookwalter and Damiano Caruso.
"We'll see pretty much by stage two where everybody fits in," Phinney said. "I'll look for my own opportunities in stages where I can. There are four uphill starts this week, which doesn't necessarily suit my capabilities, but they're going to make for really strong breakaways and breakaway opportunities."
There is one stage Phinney has circled in his race guide, when stage four will see riders tackling the 14km individual time trial in Breckenridge. There was no race against the clock in Utah, so stage four will be Phinney's first opportunity to test his legs in a time trial since his injury.
"I'm not sure entirely what to expect out of the time trial in Breckenridge," he said. "For sure it's something that I've been thinking about for awhile. I feel good on my TT bike. The power is there. We'll just kind of see how the week goes. It's got a tough little climb in it, so I'm not really sure. I can't give you a definitive 'yes I'm going to win.'"
Dennis, of course, is one of the best time trialists in the world. He briefly held the UCI Hour Record, and he won the opening time trial at this year's Tour de France. Phinney joked about the Australian's presence on BMC's Colorado roster.
"I have to deal with him on a daily basis, and also he's coming off winning the first time trial at the Tour de France, so I'll try to give him as much of a run for his money as I can," Phinney said. "He's not used to doing time trials at 9,000 feet. Neither am I, for that matter, but I'll give it my best crack."