First US Rider to lead Giro Since Vande Velde in 2008
Taylor Phinney (BMC) is only 21 and in his second year as a pro, but the talented young American's road career took a huge leap forward today with victory in the opening short time trial that was stage 1 of the Giro d'Italia.
Phinney's strong late spring form already hooked him a lead in the Giro del Trentino when BMC won the team time trial, but the 21-year-old's victory in the Giro, his first individual road success since the Eneco Tour prologue last August, is a breakthrough of huge proportions.
Phinney's result is also a timely success for BMC, whose biggest previous victory this season had been the Criterium International with Cadel Evans. Whilst Evans is once again targetting the Tour de France, Phinney has already got his team going places in the Giro.
Watched by his mother Connie Carpenter Phinney, herself a former World and Olympic road and track champion, from the side of the auditorium, Phinney explained in the winner's press conference in Herning that he hoped that his Giro success and lead - the first for an American since Christian Vande Velde was first across the line in the Giro's opening team time trial back in 2008 - would be just the start of more success.
"We'll see what happens tomorrow, but tonight I'll sleep very happily," Phinney said.
"This is incredibly special for me, I've been nervous for a couple of weeks coming into this race, but nervous in a good way. I knew I could do something really big here today."
"It just came down to going out there and doing it."
Local favourite Alex Rasmussen (Garmin-Barracuda) had said pre-race that the second section, with the long straightaways and strong headwinds, would be crucial, and Phinney made a point of "keeping a little extra mojo for that part because I knew the last three kilometeres were the most difficult section. So I put my head down and gave it everything I had.
"I was in a very deep zone of pain by then, which is always a good sign. It's a huge honour to be here in Denmark, and wearing the leader's jersey is just incredible."
If one of BMC's managers, Jim Ochowicz, was particularly delighted given he was in the team car with the 7-Eleven squad when Andy Hampsten took America's first ever Giro lead (and win) back in 1988, so too was BMC's Max Sciandri. Sciandri acts as Phinney's mentor at his Euro-base in Tuscany,Italy and Phinney - apart from thanking his team profusely in general - made a special point of mentioning the former Tour de France stage winner as having contributed big-time over the last 18 months to his victory.
Looking ahead, Phinney said, "Now we take it day by day, but I have to thank my team and staff and directors for beleiving in me. My mum is here, and I also got to talk to my dad" - Davis Phinney, the USA's first ever Tour de France stage winner - "and my sister just as Scarponi was coming across the line, and I knew I'd got the win. So for me this is incredibly special."
Although he already has an U23 world championship and track world championship titles to his name, Phinney said, "I wouldn't say these results come easy to me."
"I've always targetted big events and tried to be at my best at really important parts of the season. Last year was not quite as fruitful as I think a lot of people expected it to be, I had a couple of knee problems, and I knew it would be a struggle of a year, a learning year."
"So coming into this year I had a lot more experience under my belt, and I knew this time trial was in a way a season-maker, a huge opportunity for me to showcase myself and my abilities."
"So when I can focus on something and put it at the forefront of my mind, months beforehand, I can usually come to that event with a very strong mindset."
Talking of strong-minded riders, the question whether Phinney was the next Lance Armstrong was almost inevitable, even though Armstrong never led the Giro, so Taylor is already ahead of the seven-time Tour de France winner there.
"I've kind of dealt with that question a fair bit ever since I started winning bike races, but the main thing is Lance and I are completely different bike riders. I'm a heck of a lot bigger than he is and not quite the climber."
"Hopefully I can push the image of the sport for the fan-base, but if you look at the riders that are around my age, whether it's Tejay Van Garderen, Andrew Talanksy, Peter Stetina, there's a vast number of US riders coming up who are doing really well."
"So I'm happy and proud to be part of this new crop of riders. I'm not going to say I'm the next Lance Armstrong, I'm the first Taylor Phinney and we'll see where that takes me."