EF Education First-Drapac's self-proclaimed 'chief vibrations officer' Taylor Phinney has returned to the Tour de France for a second run at the race and reports that the vibe is good within 2017 runner-up Rigoberto Uran's team.
"We've got a pretty cool team - no slouches, that's for sure. Not that we had any slouches last year, but I think we're all excited to be here," said Phinney, the 28-year-old American who claimed in the team's roster release earlier this week that his job at the race was to "keep the vibe up" and make sure the "frequencies are calibrated".
"There's a bit of a different expectation after how it went last year, but it's still the Tour de France and it's still only my second time, so I'm excited to see what that second round is like," he said.
Phinney rode his first Tour de France last year as part of the squad supporting Uran, who jumped to fourth overall with a stage win at Chambery and then climbed steadily to second overall by the finish in Paris, just 51 seconds behind four-time winner Chris Froome (Team Sky).
It was an improbable result when last year's race began, but now that Uran has shown his potential, the expectations within the team have risen. But Phinney insisted that those increased expectations have not added to the pressure within the team.
"Well, it's never really that stressful with Rigo, which is great," he said, revealing that his team leader is prone to randomly shouting "No stress!" at the team dinner table. "We're all more aware of how well the race could go, while last year we jumped into it and we were looking for stage performances and then we rallied around one goal.
"There are stressful parts of the race you can't avoid because you're just in it and you deal with it," Phinney continued. "But there's stuff around the race, before and after the race, where it doesn't need to be stressful, in those environments he's very good. He prefers to look forward but without putting pressure on us and himself. He understands the limit of his physical capabilities and tries to keep his mind at ease."
As for the race itself, Phinney says he's not yet sure what to expect, and his team hasn't discussed race tactics. But he says the team's offensive strategy worked well in 2017, and he expects to see more of the same this year. He's especially anticipating the first third of the race.
"I think I have a lot to add in the TTT, and we're all excited about the cobbled stage [on Sunday, July 15, before the first rest day - ed.] It's going to be wild. It's great to watch on TV. Maybe it's not so great to race it, but for me, personally, it's going to be rad, it's going to be super cool."
Don't call it a comeback; OK it's a comeback
Phinney's career trajectory took a serious detour following his crash at the 2014 US Pro Championships, where a crash left him with a seriously damaged knee and leg. He didn't race for 14 months as he recovered from the injuries, and his return has not yet witnessed the heights he achieved when he won the 2012 Giro d'Italia prologue and wore the maglia rosa for three days.
Phinney's return to racing has gone through several starts and stops, with another promising result coming this year at Paris-Roubaix, where he finished eighth after helping teammate Sep Vanmarcke until the very last kilometres of the race.
"I'm back dude," he said when asked if he was back to 100 per cent. "I'm making my comeback again. I like to keep expectations low so that every time something good happens I can make another comeback. 'Where's Taylor? He's back, he's finally back, he's gone again. Oh, he's back again…"
All joking aside, Phinney said he feels like he's in a much better place mentally this year than he has been since his crash.
"I had a much better Classics season, but it was just one race for me," he said. "Cycling is funny that it only takes one result for you to be considered successful in a whole season or year, but then it's forgotten about and you have to perform again.
"I'm in a more stable place this year," he reiterated. "I was excited to come to the Tour de France, but this year I feel I'm in the groove and it feels more natural. It takes a lot of work and a lot of determination to just bust out one result anywhere. All you can do is do your own thing and hope it works out."
Froome's anti-doping case
Like most riders at the Tour de France, Phinney was eventually asked about his take on Froome's recently dismissed anti-doping case. He said that while he understands that everyone has an opinion about it, he doesn't really care to hear any of them, but he's glad, from a competitive standpoint, that Froome and Team Sky are in the race.
"For us, we want to beat Team Sky and Chris Froome," Phinney said. "He's always nice to me, and so I see him as that person. But I have no idea what those guys are up to. It's not really my business. We just go about our own things. We're excited to see what we can do behind Rigo."
But while Phinney and his team, and perhaps the majority of the peloton, have no problems with Froome, he worries about the Team Sky leader's reception on the roads.
"I won't be up there in the mountains with him when perhaps the public could be throwing beer and spitting and throwing urine. It can get out of hand, and that's not something I envy at all.
"I will say that people dressing up as giant inhalers is a lot better than people dressing up as giant syringes. It seems a step forward."
Phinney has been vocal about his opposition to riders using tramadol in and around races. It's an issue he's been pushing for years, so he welcomed the news announced last week that the UCI will ban the painkiller in competition next year.
"When it came out about the rule, there was a link to a story with what I said from six years ago," he said. "I think it's great. I think a lot of teams have made that step already. I know that BMC and this team do.
"The problem I see is that you can still take Codeine or opiate painkillers that don't have the same names. It's should be more like, 'Let's get rid of the whole opiate painkiller thing.' But it is a step forward."
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.
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