In the end, Taylor Phinney always had it in the bag. Or in this case the box.
Asked, after winning his second U.S. national time trial title, whether he had given any thought to the potential design of his champion’s skinsuit, Phinney admitted to a secret that spoke volumes about his confidence coming into the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road Race and Time Trial Championships.
“Um…you guys might hate me when I say this, but I actually have [the completed skinsuit] already,” the 23-year-old BMC Racing rider told the assembled press. “I didn’t trust them to make a cool one and I have to go straight to France on Tuesday, so I said ‘Look, we’re going to make this and we’ll just set it up as a template for future years if I don’t win this year.’ And so I may or may not already have one in my hotel room.”
Phinney promised he hasn’t opened the box – but now he can, after blazing to an impressive victory in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The Boulder, Colorado native, who also held the title in 2010, finished the rolling 19.2 mile course in 37:48, some 51 seconds faster than 2013 champion Tom Zirbel of Optum-Kelly Benefit Stratgies.
David Williams of 5-Hour Energy-Kenda scored the final podium place with a time of 39:12.
“I’m really happy with this,” said Phinney after his victory. “This is a big weight off my shoulders. I was confident going into today, but I was actually super nervous, mainly because it was one of the first time trials I’ve gone into where I’ve been the overwhelming favorite. I still can kind of play the underdog card in all the World Tour time trials, so this is the first one where everyone was looking at me, so I was quite happy to pull it off.”
Although Zirbel found himself trailing Phinney by 13 seconds at the halfway time check, he still felt confident he could make up the deficit on the second lap.
“I felt like I was still in it at that point,” said Zirbel. “I usually try to negative split in the TT and go a little conservative. For whatever reason I kind of fell apart that second lap and didn’t realize it was happening until I was going into the corners a lot slower than the first lap. My effort was there but I just didn’t have the legs in the second lap.”
Phinney wasn’t the only one feeling confident going into the day’s event.
Asked when she knew she had the women’s title secured, UnitedHealthcare’s Alison Powers, who triumphed over much of the same field at the Amgen Tour of California’s Folsom time trial on May 12, was equally straightforward.
“I knew last week [after California],” she said. “Today was just about execution.”
Powers rode to victory in 42.23, besting 2013 champion Carmen Small and her Specialized-lululemon teammate Evelyn Stevens by 29 seconds and 1.03 respectively. Tayler Wiles, also of Specialized-lululemon, took fourth, at 1:04.
Small said she came into the race as the defending champion, but with less lofty goals.
“I chose not to get any splits (from her team car),” said Small. “I was thinking top 10 would be a great ride. Going into it I had a completely different mindset so I’m pretty happy with second place today. Alison rode a great race and I couldn’t have gone any harder today. It’s too bad I lost the jersey, but it’s not like I lost it to just anyone. Alison is a returning champion and she’s an incredible bike racer.”
After what she describes as a disappointing third place finish in 2013, Powers, who last held the U.S. TT champion’s title in 2008, says she thought long and hard about her approach to the weekend.
“I really had to reevaluate my plan and give some thought to what I could do better, and what I did wrong [in 2013],” she said. “I think I developed a really good plan for today. I rode with confidence that the plan was going to work and rode exactly to the plan. And in the end it worked perfectly.”
Powers’ win, like Phinney’s, creates an interesting opportunity for Monday’s national road race championship. No female rider has simultaneously held the national time trial and road race championship titles since Kristin Armstrong in 2006, while no male rider has ever accomplished the feat. But Powers, who also holds the U.S. women’s criterium championship, now stands poised to become the first American ever to hold all three titles concurrently.
“I’ve always been proud of the fact that I’m fairly strong in all [disciplines],” Powers told VeloNews. “My fiancée is always drilling in the fact that I can win any race. I don’t ever believe him, but he’s right. It’s really cool to think that I could be the only person who’s won all three. At the same time, a race is a race and there are a lot of strong people here. All you can do is race your best and hope for a good result.”
Powers, Small and Stevens will make up the U.S. women’s individual time trial team at the 2014 UCI Road World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain, this September. Powers qualifies with her victory on Saturday, while Small qualified via her bronze-medal performance at last year’s world championships, and Stevens by virtue of her gold medal at the 2014 Pan American Continental Road Championships earlier this month.
A win during Monday’s road road would be big for Phinney, as well. The rider, who will debut his national champion’s skinsuit in the prologue of June’s Critérium du Dauphiné, is in the running for his first Tour de France selection in July.
“That’s my biggest goal of the year, to go to the Tour,” explained Phinney. “Especially now, having the [national champion’s] skinsuit. There’s a long time trial on the penultimate day and I’d love to go fly the flag.”
Monday’s road race will feature multiple ascents of Chattanooga’s Lookout Mountain and a steep 20-percent climb up Kent Street, known locally as “TheWall.”
Both the men’s and women’s races will be live streamed via the USA Cycling Tour Tracker app, with coverage of the women’s race beginning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern time.
Dan Wuori will be on site in Chattanooga throughout Memorial Day weekend. For updates on follow him on Twitter at @dwuori.
Men’s Time Trial - 30.9km
1. Taylor Phinney (Boulder, Colo./BMC Racing Team) 37:48.92
2. Tom Zirbel (Boulder, Colo./Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) +0:51
3. David Williams (Grand Rapids, Mich./5-Hour Energy p/b Kenda) +1:24
Women’s Time Trial – 30.9km
1. Alison Powers (Pinecliffe, Colo./UnitedHealthcare) 42:23.09
2. Carmen Small (Durango, Colo./Specialized-lululemon) +0:29
3. Evelyn Stevens (Dennis, Mass./Specialized-lululemon) +01.03