Taylor Phinney finished fifth on the first stage of the Tours de Pays de Savoie, over 95 kilometres from Chambéry to Saint-Jean de Maurienne. The race, which runs three days, will see Phinney and the US National team take on some of the most demanding Alpine climbs, including the Col de Madelaine and Croix de Fer. It will be the first time the track world champion has raced over such terrain but after Friday's initial test he's looking forward to the task at hand.
"Today was my kind of stage. The team tried to control the race but it broke apart in the final 20 kilometres," said Phinney. However he and teammate Tejay Van Garderen bridged up to the leaders just as a small group split from the front. Phinney eventually finished fifth with Van Garderen taking ninth.
Despite a top ten finish Phinney was disappointed to miss out on his second road win of the season, after claiming the Under 23 Paris Roubaix title earlier in the year. "It's a shame we didn't make it across to the leaders as I was feeling strong and I could have won in a sprint but I can't be too down. Tejay did a fantastic ride. He's certainly a young rider with huge potential and one that people should watch out for," Phinney said.
"Tejay and I have never raced together before, but are good friends and have remained close over the years as both of us have risen to high levels in this sport. While many people haven't heard of Tejay, he has been tearing up the Under 23 cycling world while racing for the Rabobank Continental Team. He's two years older than me and knows the cycling world a lot better than I do. I look up to him as a good mentor for me."
"In the race today, he suggested that we both attack over the final climb to bridge to the breakaway," said Phinney. "I had thought of this but wasn't sure if I had the confidence to pull it off. With his encouragement, we decided to go for it."
"For me it was a defining moment because I realized that I am strong enough to do such attacks and have Tejay to thank for the confidence boost."
Over the next two days Phinney and the rest of the US National Team will tackle some of the most severe Alpine climbs. On stage two they will face 129 kilometres to Longshamps with the parcours including the Col de la Forclaz, Col de Tamié and 14 kilometres of the col de la Madeleine. Sunday's final stage includes the Col de la Croix de Fer, Col du Glandon.
"The next two days are about figuring out if I can make it on these climbs. I've been up some of them before but not in a race situation. I used to come to the Alps with my parents and we'd do some of these climbs but that was when I was about thirteen years old. The longest climb I've done in a race is about eight kilometres so racing to 25 kilometres is going to be a lot different."
For Phinney though the weekend holds a personal significance that sits closer to home. "On Sunday my parents will come and watch me on the Croix de Fer. My grandpa died of cancer in 2001, but he has a memorial stone on that climb so it will be cool to ride passed that and have my dad there. It will be Father's Day so it's going to be really special for our family."
After the race Phinney will compete in a one day race in Belgium before returning to America to concentrate on building up for the nationals in a bid to represent his country at the Worlds.