Taylor Phinney boyishly suggested he may play hula hoop with his Dubai Tour winner's trophy but a dominant overall victory in the first edition of the race confirmed the 23-year-old American has improved and matured as he begins his fourth season with BMC.
A successful year is not measured by an early season victory but the way Phinney handled the pressure of race, team leadership and his time in the spotlight, showed he is rapidly living up to his potential and family pedigree.
In 2013 he won a stage at the Tour of Poland with a 10km solo attack but considered the season a disappointment after failing to land a medal in the world time trial championships and after failing to leave his mark in the Classics.
He admitted he was always 'behind the eight ball and chasing form' following three weeks off the bike due to an infection in June, but he's back to his best after an excellent winter training in the USA and a trouble-free early season.
"I consider this my first pro stage race victory. This is a big step for me," Phinney said, with his victory at the 2010 Olympia Tour while at Trek-Livestrong relegated to his Under 23 palmares.
"To step into a leader's jersey and play that role and feel confident in that role is very satisfying. In the past I've started the season after struggling with injuries. This time I've come off a trouble-free winter and feel great."
A new maturity
BMC directeur sportif Max Sciandri has noticed a significant difference in Phinney's physical ability and maturity this season.
"He's still a young guy and so one year makes a big difference," the Anglo-Italian former rider turned directeur sportif told Cyclingnews.
"He learns from his mistakes. He's been able to move forward, adjust and learn."
Phinney has flown Sciandri's protective nest in Quarrata, Tuscany and moved to Nice. He is now more independent and is working with fellow American Bobby Julich, who is part of BMC's much improved performance team of coaches and specialists.
Phinney explained that the growing influence of BMC sporting manager Allan Peiper has also contributed to his and the team's success. The Australian has combined his own racing experience with what he learnt as a directeur sportif at HTC under the guidance of Bob Stapleton. His calm but driven and disciplined nature seems to have inspired Phinney and the BMC riders to raise their game for 2014.
"I really get on well with Allan Peiper, I like him a lot and I think he has a great vision for the team," Phinney said.
"I'm sports science orientated, I'm always looking for that new thing in aerodynamics, nutrition and training. I love being at the forefront of that and getting away from the old school and going towards the new school.
"I'm a goals setting type person and so I love that the team has set goals that I agree upon. I'm really happy with how things are going at BMC."
The Classics and the Tour de France
Phinney will target the time trial stage later this week at the Tour Méditeranéen in the South of France. He will then ride Paris-Nice with friend and fellow young American Tejay van Garderen. Then it will be time for the Classics, where he will join forces with Philippe Gilbert, Thor Hushovd and Greg Van Avermaet.
Despite his success in Dubai, Phinney did not openly lay claim to a leadership role for the spring Classics.
"I don't expect to be top dog in the Classics just because I won one race," he said, keeping his feed on the ground and his ego in check.
"I'll try to prove to myself to the team but I don’t take it as a given to have a top spot."
Phinney wore the pink jersey at the Giro d'Italia in 2012 after winning the prologue time trial in Denmark. He has also ridden the Vuelta a Espana. In 2014, as his maturity and development continue, he rightly feels it is time he experienced what it is like to ride the Tour de France.
"Making the Tour team is huge for me," Phinney said.
"The Classics are the Classics and that's what I'm best at but other than time trialing, our entire calendar revolves around the Tour. This is my fourth year as a pro and I haven't been there yet.
"With the team backing Tejay and us being such close friends, me being a guy who can definitely help him a lot throughout the race, it's very important for me to prove myself and make that team. We'll cross that bridge when we get there. It's pretty far away and once we get out of the Classics, I'll switch modes and focus on making that squad."
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