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Taylor Phinney returns to classics after a bout with the flu

WEVELGEM, Belgium (VN) — After a bout with the flu, Taylor Phinney returned to the classics on Sunday, finishing 22nd at Gent-Wevelgem and looking ahead to two big appointments: Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix.

“It’s obviously better if you don’t have any setbacks but it’s just part of the game,” Phinney said behind the stage at the start of Sunday’s race.

“Sometimes you get lucky and you make it through the classics season without any issues or setbacks, but I’ve yet to have that happen. A lot of it’s mental, so if you don’t let it affect you then it’s not a big deal.”

Behind Phinney, Tom Boonen talked to reporters with a bandaged right thumb. The Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider likewise fell behind in training in the last two weeks when his partner miscarried and he injured the thumb in a crash at E3 Harelbeke.

Phinney and BMC decided last year that it would be better if he skipped the Belgian classic Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders). He had pain in his right knee and said that he wanted to save himself for Paris-Roubaix. This year, flu kept him out of Milano-Sanremo.

“Many guys got sick from Paris-Nice but it’s not that big of a setback. I just missed a big opportunity in Milano-Sanremo with the weather and the course the way it was — they suited me,” said Phinney.

“That’s just how it goes, especially in the spring. I feel better now. My main goal is next weekend and the weekend after that.”

Besides collecting track medals, Phinney won two under-23 Paris-Roubaix titles. He rode to 15th place in his debut in the pro version in 2012 and to 23rd last year.

He is targeting a win in the cobbled classics, Ronde and Roubaix, this year or in the coming seasons. Though the 23-year-old is debuting in Ronde, he will lead the team in both races along with experienced hands Greg Van Avermaet and Thor Hushovd.

“I get nervous for them but only in that I really want to perform well and do well,” he said. “They are nerve-wracking races, but they are the races that I’m best at. For sure I put a top priority on them. I’m still trying to be a prominent figure in that front group. That’s my main goal in the next couple of races.

“I’ve been making my way up slowly and steadily. I don’t put too much on myself to be there battling with the guys. I don’t put myself with Peter Sagan and try to compare to him. Even if we are the same age, he’s an anomaly.

“I’m making steps up every year, that’s the biggest sign for me. I’ll continue to do that. I’ll just keep getting better, however much time it takes. I expect myself to be at the forefront of these races, sooner rather than later, and consistently there throughout my career.”