The American Classics rider and time trial specialist spent close to 175km out front with Stefano Agostini (Cannondale), Maxim Belkov (Katusha), Alessandro Proni (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) and Pedro Paulinho (Ceramica Flaminia). They opened a 13-minute lead at one point but were caught by the leading contenders on the final climb of the race. Phinney went on to finish 50th, exactly a minute behind winner Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling).
"That was my first-ever European breakaway, the first time I've ever gone in a breakaway from the start," Phinney told Cyclingnews as he headed to the podium to collect the special Memorial Casartelli prize.
"I saw that there was a special intermediate sprint in memory of Fabio Casartelli and so I decided to go for it. I know his family pretty well, he was a close friend of some close friends of mine, like George [Hincapie], Jim Ochowicz and [team doctor] Max Testa, so there's a special link there. That gave me the extra motivation to go out there. I wanted to win it."
Phinney will travel to Siena on Friday for Saturday's Strade Bianche race. He revealed he will not have a leadership role within the BMC team but hopes to do well in the testing race on the dirt roads of the Chianti region.
"I don’t know if I'm in the right place with my weight to be able to handle it and do something but this ride was a good opener and a good test for Saturday," he explained.
"I felt quite strong on the climb. I'll be up there. I won't be a protected leader or anything but it's a beautiful race, so I want to do as well as I can. I've always wanted to do it."
After riding the Tour of Qatar and the Tour of Oman, the GP di Camaiore was the first of an important series of races that ends with Milano-Sanremo on March 17.
"I'm excited to be in Italy for the next three weeks," Phinney said, confirming his goals for early March.
"We've got the opening team time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico on Wednesday and then the final short time trial, which suit me. Then Milano-Sanremo is the last Italian goal before Belgium. There's a lot going on but I wouldn't have it any other way."