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Taylor Phinney (Team BMC)
Tour de San Luis time trial first goal of 2014
The path to the Tour start line in Leeds, England has begun in Argentina at the Tour de San Luis where Phinney hopes to earn his first victory of the season in Friday's 19.2km time trial.
"I haven't started my season in January yet, I've always started with Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman, but I've wanted to start in January," Phinney said prior to the start of stage 4 in San Luis. "I kind of find my best legs, at least in the second half of the season, toward the end of the season, so I figured I'd try to start racing as early as possible.
"Coming down here it's so hot you get the heat acclimatization as well as a bit of everything. You have wind, some climbs, some relaxed riding and some sprints. As long as you can stay healthy and get through it, it's a really good way to start."
His sojourn to Argentina was disrupted by a stomach bug prior to Monday's opening stage, but Phinney was confident he'd bounced back and is excited about his first time trial effort of the season.
"If you just look on paper I think [Movistar's Adriano] Malori is my biggest rival, but you never really know in a race like this. I'm not riding around looking at other guys thinking 'he looks good'. I'm quite strong right now and I've done a lot of work especially for this time trial. It's been a goal for a while and I'd like to knock it out."
Phinney outlined his race schedule following the conclusion of the Tour de San Luis.
"I'm going from here to the Tour of Dubai," said Phinney. "Other than the time trial that we have tomorrow [in San Luis] it's my first big goal to the season. If I win that I'm hoping I get a gold bar or maybe my own island [laughs], but that would be a huge race to win.
"There's the time trial in the Tour of Med that I'll be aiming for then and from there we start the Classics, helping Tejay [van Garderen] in Paris-Nice, then diving into the major Classics.
"After that I go back to the States and get to spend some time in America, which is always nice for me. There's [Tour of] California, then Nationals is a big goal. I haven't done Nationals in a couple of years and I'd really love to win at least the time trial and maybe the road race and the time trial. And then from there it's all about trying to make the Tour de France team, that's the biggest long-term goal of the season."
A pair of beloved Classics
Two other pillars of his season prior to an anticipated Tour de France start are the venerable one-day Classics of Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix. Phinney rode to a strong seventh place result in the 2013 Milan-San Remo, but his Paris-Roubaix starts in the professional level haven't yet come close to the standard set when he won back-to-back espoir editions of the Hell of the North in 2009 and 2010.
First up is the Italian Monument, which features a course change this year of an additional climb 20km from the finish, all but ruling out the hopes of any sprinters.
"I haven't seen the new climb, so I'm not really sure, but it's still a race I really want to do regardless because, other than Roubaix, it's probably my favourite race," said Phinney. "Just the distance, the history, it's a special event. One of the races that remains true to its name - being from Milan to San Remo.
"I like to think of myself as eventually being the guy who can get over the climbs and sprint from a group of 40 or 50 riders and win races. I have the physical ability, but just getting there is taking a bit of time. For sure that kind of course will suit me as the years go by, but it will be good just to get there this year."
After finishing 15th in his professional level Paris-Roubaix in 2012, Phinney placed 23rd last year and is fully conscious that a bit of youthful exuberance through the Arenberg forest cost him later in the day.
"I had this moment where I thought maybe this is the only chance in my entire career where I can hit the Arenberg forest first," said Phinney. "All in one second I thought of the TV camera, my parents watching on TV and the shot that they do when they're going forward and then turn back and it's just riders - so fast and so loud. And I thought 'I could be that guy right there'.
"I have the fitness and I have the positioning ability to be wherever I need to be and I have the strength to follow the moves, but then I just need patience for the whole day."