BMC's all star line up creates headaches when it comes to expectations. Before Paris-Roubaix, Taylor Phinney made it clear that the team would be putting all its efforts behind Thor Hushovd, despite the American being labelled as the biggest threat to Fabian Cancellara's tilt for a second Flanders-Roubaix double and a week off racing with a knee injury.
After the 254km cobbled classic was done on Sunday afternoon, and as he began to take stock on the grass in the Roubaix velodrome, Phinney made an admission.
"It's always hard in a team like this to all be motivated for one single goal and one single rider."
Phinney had finished in 23rd position, 3:13 behind Cancellara, Hushovd in 35th 16 seconds further back while the team's Mr Consistent, Greg Van Avermaet only just missed out on the podium, in fourth place having been beaten by Niki Terpstra in the sprint.
"We kind of have the guy that you don't expect on the team as the one that gets the results in every one of these classics," Phinney said of Van Avermaet who in recent weeks also claimed third in Gent-Wevelgem and seventh at the Tour of Flanders.
Phinney had been in a group of four that went up the road early in the piece along with Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen, Geraint Thomas and Astana's Borut Bozic, only to be chased down by RadioShack Leopard. A two-time winner of the under-23 edition of the race, Phinney admitted that the move perhaps had given something away regarding his emotional connection to The Hell of the North.
"I was like, oooh this is a nice move but it's so far away from the finish," the 22-year-old admitted. "I think yeah, maybe I was just a little bit too excited this morning."
When RadioShack made the catch on his group, a counter attack came from Stuart O'Grady (Orica GreenEdge), Mathew Hayman (Sky), Gert Steegmans (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) and Clement Kortesky (Bretagne Seche - Environnement). Their lead got out to over two minutes but it was a surge by Phinney on the Trouée d'Arenberg that spelled the beginning of their end. By the end of the forest, the gap was down to 40 seconds.
"We were trying to activate the race and I was feeling good; I was up there. It's just that there's a lot to learn with this race."
For Phinney, as in his debut at Paris-Roubaix in 2012, there were no mechanicals or punctures but the same could not be said for several of his teammates who dropped out of the race with Marcus Burghardt, Danilo Wyss and Daniel Oss all falling by the wayside. Hushovd's day effectively ended with around 40km left to race with another puncture. Earlier, the Norwegian had required a new bike and later, another dreaded flat slowed any momentum. Tellingly, there was no one to support his chase back to the group. Hushovd was flying solo but his performance on Sunday would have easily been better if some luck had gone his way.
"I don't think Thor is back to 100 per cent but hopefully he can get there whether it's at the Tour this year or the Classics next year," said Phinney. "I really like the guy and I'd like to see him at his best."
In the lead up to E3 and Gent-Wevelgem, Phinney found himself talking about his love for Roubaix at the team's press conference back in their Kortrijk hotel. Roubaix was his "light at the end" of the Flanders Classics tunnel. It was, Phinney said, a race for him.
"I always just really liked the entertainment value of Paris-Roubaix watching it as a kid," he beamed. "It's one of those races you can just watch the last three hours of and you can just stay in front of the TV and be captivated; and as an American we always like a show and to put on a show.
"That's what I like most about it, just having the opportunity to be part of the big show and the big drama."
Phinney's debut Roubaix in 2012 was spent working for Alessandro Ballan who netted third place. It earned the American 15th. Today he was taking the good with the bad.
"It's a bit of a disappointment but I know physically I'm in a lot better of a place than I was last year," Phinney admitted, face solemn. "I was a lot better with the positioning; I was a lot more confident. It was just going above and beyond when I really needed to - I just didn't really have it. That was the race. Then I recovered from that in the middle parts and started to feel better by the end but by then it was too late."
Phinney's enthusiasm for Paris-Roubaix, despite being physically drained by what he'd endured, was not wavering however.
"That's the goal of the career - to win this race," he confirmed. "It takes a lot of experience. A couple more grand tours; a couple more years."
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