Taylor Phinney is not happy about riding the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix during the Tour de France on Sunday. That may strange from the American who finished eighth in this year's Paris-Roubaix and who dreams about one day lifting the pavé prize in the centre of the velodrome. But Phinney is frustrated that the stage will be a battle of survival amongst the overall contenders rather then a race between the best Classics riders.
"It's going to be gnarly, man," Phinney warned Cyclingnews, his hipster drawl worsened by the fatigue of a week on the Tour. "It's going to be a bunch of grown men going crazy, trying to protect the smallest guy on their team."
Phinney is fine riding shotgun for EF Education First-Drapac team leader Rigoberto Uran on stage 9 on Sunday. Indeed, he's ready to give his all in the hope that the Colombian can finish better than his second place at the 2017 Tour, and so win the sport's biggest race.
However, he's also got some personal regrets, just like almost every other Classics rider – from Peter Sagan to Greg Van Avermaet, to Michal Kwiatkowski. They will also have to largely sacrifice their chances on the pavé to help and protect their team leaders and their shot at GC glory.
"It's going to be so annoying that stage," Phinney told Cyclingnews, feigning frustration, while also building expectation. "It's just going to be all the GC teams chasing stuff back and limiting losses. It's going to be a very different experience compared to if it was just Sep [Vanmarcke] and me going for it against the other Classic guys."
Of course, Phinney is quietly hoping that he can somehow get a chance of winning the stage, while still protecting Uran, but he knows it will take a miracle for it happen.
"If the stars somehow align, if the monolith aligns with the stars like in 2001: A Space Odyssey, then perhaps," he said citing one of the most important scenes from Stanley Kubrick's legendary movie.
Phinney and Uran have already done a special reconnaissance ride of the 15 cobbled sectors, trying to memorise the key points and best lines. Phinney hopes to guide Uran over the cobbles after helping him in the fight for position.
"We're trying to figure out how were going to get him to follow us through the most nervous sections of the race," Phinney said of his bantamweight teammate.
"It's different to a climbing stage, where you can make up several positions. On the Roubaix stage, when we hit the cobbles, you are where you are, and probably where you should be. After that, you either go backwards or go forwards."
It's the Tour, baby!
Despite accumulating fatigue from the intense days of racing, Phinney is still enamoured with the Tour de France, and especially this year's race.
"It's the Tour de France. It's the dream, baby," he said, mocking himself but then adding a layer of seriousness and maturity.
"It's the big show. It's always wild, it's always an experience. There's always an opportunity to learn and grow at the Tour de France. For sure, you also get so tired, and that's part of the game. My neck is tight because of spending a lot time trying to move up and keep position."
Phinney is curious about what will happen on the cobbles and who will lose time and hopes for the overall classification. Strangely, and despite being a bigger-built *rouleur*, he's also looking forward to the mountains as he tries to find his own equilibrium in this year's race.
"I think a lot of the peloton is looking forward to heading into the mountains even if that means being in the gruppetto. It will be a natural selection and some calm. I really am looking forward to that," Phinney concluded.
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.