Taylor Phinney (EF Education First-Drapac) will test his time trial form in the final 10km stage at Tirreno-Adriatico on Tuesday but is also eyeing a successful cobbled Classics campaign and even a ride at the Tour de France, using his personal 'mindfulness' skills to survive life on the road and the peloton.
Phinney has struggled to get back to his very best since his career-threatening crash at the 2014 US national road race championships. The incident left him with severe injuries to his left knee and leg muscles and he missed most of the 2015 season to undergo rehabilitation and rebalance his muscle strength. He fought to return to the peloton but the difficult journey back to fitness changed him as a person. He was close to quitting the sport in the spring of 2016 and opted to move from BMC to Cannondale-Drapac.
He enjoyed riding the Tour de France for the first time in 2017, helping Rigoberto Uran finish second overall behind Chris Froome (Team Sky). It seemed to rekindle his love for the sport, the suffering involved and the need to sacrifice his personal life for success.
Tirreno-Adriatico is a key block of racing before riding Milan-San Remo and then heading to northern Europe for the cobbled Classics.
He finished at the back of the pack on Monday's sprint finish in Fano and will have his shot at success in Tuesday's flat out-and-back 10km time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto, starting at 1:20 local time. However, the fatigue of a tough Tirreno-Adriatico will perhaps hurt his chances of a stage victory.
"I'm always up for a time trial but it's been pretty nasty here in the last few days. I also think I've got a bit of the Strade Bianche inside my face," Phinney told Cyclingnews.
"Physically I don't feel sick but I think as your body comes out of the winter you kind of break out a cocoon. Hopefully, that means the butterfly form is on its way and will start to flap its wings very soon.
"This race always rips me a new one. The region of the final stage is where I did 120km solo in 2012 to try to make the time cut. But I then got seventh in Milan-San Remo the next weekend when it snowed."
Handling the expectation and the demands of professional cycling
Phinney has struggled with the expectations and the demands of professional cycling since his return. But a solid winter of training at home in the USA and lots of yoga have made him mentally stronger and more mindful.
"Yeah, I'd say I'm more mindful and more present. Now I'm able to soak up the atmosphere a little better than before," Phinney tells Cyclingnews.
"As a cyclist, you spend a lot of time thinking about what you're going to wear in the rain, how cold it's going to be, how fast everyone is going to go and the race routes. You spend a lot of time externally and you don't spend time internally, so I've been getting the vibes up.
"This is the first time I've come into the Classics without any injury problems. I've been able to stay on top of my own therapy and do a ton of yoga. I'm meditating a lot and so I'm just stoked and grateful to be racing, to be a positive force."
Phinney has lowered his own expectations compared with the past.
"This part of the season is always unique because any kind of result in the Classics is a big thing. At least it is for me because I've been top 10 in a couple of them but I've never won or been on the podium," he explained.
"I missed the whole Classics campaign last season and the year before I was still dealing with having one and a half legs. Now I just feel strong in my body and so we'll see how I measure up against everyone else.
"I'm going to Belgium for the two and half week stint and ultimately looking for something at Paris-Roubaix. I'm a bit bigger physically this year but I feel I've had to do that to be more even on the bike and so that my left leg feels better. It's about compromises and trying to find the best balance. I'm on the road until Roubaix. That would have probably cracked me in the past but I'm stoked about it now."
Phinney will return to the USA after his spring campaign and ride the Tour of California before hoping to secure a place in the EF Education First-Drapac team for the Tour de France.
"I miss being at the Tour de France all season, I think we all do, right?" he said, happily looking up the road instead of just holding in his doubts.