As Taylor Phinney took his seat for BMC’s pre-Roubaix press conference in Kortrijk, Belgium, Thursday, his father, American cycling legend Davis Phinney, slipped quietly into the room and assumed a seat in the back.
Largely unnoticed by the swarming European press corps, Phinney looked on as his son – a two-time winner of Paris-Roubaix’s U23 edition – fielded questions alongside some of the sport’s biggest names: Thor Hushovd, Allesandro Ballan and George Hincapie. The experience was a special one for the former Team 7-11 sprinter, who spoke exclusively with VeloNews.com.
“Yeah, [Taylor’s debut at Roubaix] is very special,” explained the elder Phinney, who was joined in Belgium Friday by his wife, Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist Connie Carpenter, and Taylor’s younger sister Kelsey.
“It feels really good to be back in Belgium. I hadn’t flown into Brussels in a long time. There’s a certain kind of familiarity with this place and with these people that I’ve always loved. So, I’m really happy to be here and happy that the whole family will be here to see Taylor’s debut.”
How will Taylor fare on Sunday? His father, himself a Roubaix veteran, is cautiously optimistic.
“Taylor is so well suited for this race,” he says. “My prediction is that he’ll win someday. He probably won’t win Sunday, but being here is another important step up the Paris-Roubaix ladder.
He tells me he feels great. And if he tells me he feels great, he feels great.
Then it comes down to positioning and luck and not having mechanical issues and whatnot, but I think he’ll be an effective player for the team and, lacking any of the obvious issues – punctures, crashes, he could finish up quite well this weekend.”
Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, Phinney is confident his son will outperform his own Roubaix debut.
“I was not suited for the cobbles at all. I was the kind of rider that entered those sections in a good position, because I was a sprinter and could get to the front. But I would just feel my alternator defaulting and my battery winding down. I’d come out of each section in a terrible position and completely flat. After fifteen sections I was toast.
But that’s what’s so interesting about Taylor. He’s the kind of rider that’s exactly the opposite. He’ll actually gain energy through the sections. He’s much better suited to it than I was. You should see him; it’s really fun to watch. If he can get through the Arenberg Forest cleanly and makes the first group out of there it will be huge.”
What will mark a successful debut for the 21-year-old sensation?
“Well, you know, it’s not a Gran Fondo,” his father notes with a laugh.
“It’ll really depend on the team situation and the dynamics and how much energy he has to spend. You know if he was on a different team where everyone was supporting him I think, lacking any other issues, I could see him finishing in the top 20 or even the top 10.
Here [on BMC] it just depends. If he ends up well placed then I’m sure that Thor will be up there and he’ll be required to spend his energy for Thor. It’s part of the job.”
The younger Phinney is equally excited about his family’s arrival.
“It’s really nice to have my family here with me,” Taylor explains. pulling up a seat alongside his father’s.
“This is my favorite race ever. Someone asked me what my earliest memory of Paris-Roubaix is. The memories that come to mind are mostly when [teammate] George [Hincapie, who will start his 17th Roubaix Sunday] was crashing. You know as an American you’re always watching out for George. The year that Boonen got third I remember George going into a ditch. And then there was the year he broke his fork.
It’s always a race that’s fun to watch. I never miss it. I just sit myself in front of the TV and glue myself to it. I think that’s the main reason that I love it; the entertainment value of the race is so high. Now that I’m in the race hopefully I can add to that.”
Entertainment value aside, it’s clear that Taylor Phinney understands his role on Sunday.
“I’m in a supporting role. We have some guys [on the team] that I have a lot of respect for. They’ve become more than teammates. They’re good friends and I’d really like to see them win.
I know they have good chances of success, so whatever I can do for them on Sunday is my plan. Being up front, making the key selections and helping my team to a win is my dream race.
Whatever happens it’s going to be epic,” beams the young Phinney. “Whether it’s hot and dusty or cold and rainy, it’s just going to be an epic day because it’s Paris Roubaix.”