Taylor Phinney isn't a stranger to the top step of the podium at Paris-Roubaix, having won the espoirs version in 2009 and 2010, but the 28-year-old EF Education First rider's eighth place last year in the elite race has him licking his lips for another shot this year.
Asked if he was focusing his early season on a build-up for the race, the Boulder, Colorado, native had a succinct answer.
"100 per cent," Phinney told Cyclingnews before the start of stage 2 at the Tour Colombia 2.1, where he's riding in support of Rigoberto Urán and Dani Martinez.
"My next race is Het Nieuwsblad, so I'm going right into it, right into Belgium, and I'm excited," Phinney said. "Everybody says this every year, but I think I'm coming into this year, at least for me personally, much more comfortable with where I am and what I'm doing."
Phinney joined EF Education First in 2017 after six years with BMC Racing and a near-career-ending injury in 2014. Jonathan Vaughters' Slipstream program has been a good fit for Phinney, whose free spirit has been allowed to flourish with his new team. The freedom the team has given Phinney this year in training shows the confidence Vaughters and EF have in him.
"The team has given me a lot of freedom as far as being able to curate my own training program and not riding me super hard on uploading to Training Peaks," he said. "They've put some trust in me to be able to do what I need to do and arrive at the races in the form that I need to arrive at, and that's been really liberating to me mentally. So, I feel happy."
On the theory that a happy bike racer is a good bike racer, Phinney has introduced his unique perspective to preparation.
"I've been doing a lot of adventuring on my bike and some training on the side," he said, "and just loving riding my bike and looking forward to the races that I'm best at and looking forward to contributing in the races where I can contribute."
Phinney is currently contributing in Colombia, where the team took out the opening team time trial and put Urán in the first leader’s jersey. Phinney and crew will now have the responsibility of riding the front for stage 2, and Phinney said he's ready for it.
"I'm going to spend most of the days at this race on the front," he said. "There's 29 teams here, and 22 of them are Continental teams, so that will be interesting racing. I think it will be a lot like racing under-23s, so a more open race, and it will be more exciting to watch because there will be less control.
"I'll just be tinkering on the front," he said.
Before that tinkering started, the team was able to get in a small celebration on Tuesday night before an early wake-up call Wednesday morning to eat breakfast and start the drive to stage 2.
"We had to wake up at 5:45 this morning, so we didn't do a whole lot of celebrating," he said. "But we've been here for a week and we've had a lot of cool experiences here in Colombia, so I feel like we've been celebrating our time here before we even had our win."