For Taylor Phinney, it doesn’t get any bigger than this.
USA Cycling selected the 21-year-old to ride the time trial and the road race at this summer’s London Olympics, at once confirming Phinney’s place in American cycling and representing the largest opportunity to date in his blooming career.
Phinney found out he’d made the team unofficially at 2:58 p.m. Mountain time. Officially, he found out with the rest of the cycling world, at 3:02. Phinney was hopeful; He’d been making a case for himself all season. But the USA Cycling selection process can be clear as mud — Chris Horner will attend his first Olympics this year at age 40.
“You can never fully expect to be on a roster. I think that I made a good case for myself throughout the year,” Phinney said from his Boulder home Friday afternoon. “No matter what, I would have respected their decision and I’m honored and very happy that they chose me for the time trial and the road race.”
Phinney was born for this. His father, Davis, won the road race bronze medal in the 1984 Olympics and won 328 races over his career — the high-water mark for an American cyclist. His mother, Connie Carpenter, won the gold medal in the road race at the 1984 games in Los Angeles as well.
The younger Phinney will come into the Games with a full head of steam. He’s not riding the Tour de France, and already has the 2012 Giro d’Italia — in which he wore the maglia rosa after winning the prologue — under his belt. He’s been training hard in Boulder since his return to the States.
“I have a solid five, six weeks that I can really dedicate to perfecting that time trial and perfecting the road race course,” Phinney said. “I’m really happy with the opportunity.”
Phinney has proven his mettle in prologues. Longer time trials, however, are something else.
“The longer time trials are something that I’m building toward,” Phinney said. “I’m going there to get a really good result, and I’m basing my training off trying potentially getting a medal. That’s a mind frame you have to have going into the Olympics.”
Tactically, the road race is an unknown. The course includes nine laps over Box Hill, a punchy climb via a thin road, but there is a strong chance sprinters will still be in contention come the finish line.
Great Britain’s Mark Cavendish has lost nearly 10 pounds in an effort to slim down for the hilly course, and Belgium’s Tom Boonen is skipping the Tour entirely to focus on London. Competition will be toothy, to say the least.
Tyler Farrar, Timmy Duggan, Tejay van Garderen, Phinney and Chris Horner make up the U.S. contingent. It’s a formidable team, and one that will have to work hard to line up the sprint.
In the event the field stays together, Farrar will carry the weight of a nation to the finish. The towering Phinney — he’s 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 180 pounds — will likely be tasked with leading him out.
“If that’s my position, I’ll do that to the best of my abilities, of course,” Phinney said. “I’ve heard mixed things about it. I think it’s going to make for a really exciting race. I’ll be there to do my part.”
The London Games represent a flashpoint for Phinney. His road career is on the cusp of exploding. Twice a winner of the U-23 Paris-Roubaix, he finished 15th in his first elite edition of the race this year, then collected that pink jersey in the Giro. He’s competed in the Olympics before — he took seventh as an 18-year-old in Beijing in the individual pursuit — but these Games have the feel of something bigger
The selection waters were muddied earlier this week with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s sweeping doping allegations against Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel, which relied heavily upon testimony from former riders.
There was speculation that riders who testified might be considered under investigation, and USA Cycling told VeloNews it would not take anyone under active scrutiny.
But that meant nothing for Phinney.
“I let the selectors do the selecting. I personally don’t think the USADA thing had anything to do with the selection since it only came out two days ago,” Phinney said calmly
“It came out at an unfortunate time. We’ve got a good, new team, going to the Olympics, young guys. And we’ve got Chris Horner,” Phinney said
Phinney noted that the decision to send him rather than reigning U.S. time-trial champion Dave Zabriskie could prompt some questions, but he’s prepared to answer them
“I think it’s a bit of a gamble to go with me, for sure because I’m younger and haven’t proved myself and Dave has in the past,” he said. “I’m planning on not letting anybody down.”
And though it’s his first crack at the time trial and road race, Phinney can draw on past experience.
“Going to the Olympics at  kind of blew my mind. It’s great to have an Olympics under the belt, I can tell you that for sure,” he said. “The whole experience of it is just so huge. To be immersed into that Olympic experience — it kind of takes your breath away for the first time.”
As for the second, we’ll have to wait and see.