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Phinney holding out hope for return to Paris-Roubaix

Taylor Phinney is holding out hope of returning to Paris-Roubaix this season.

Before his horrific crash at the U.S. championships in 2014, Phinney once dreamed of winning the cobblestoned classic. Now, as he plots his UCI WorldTour comeback for 2016, simply racing Roubaix would be victory enough.

“I still want to do those races,” Phinney said at BMC Racing’s December training camp. “I cannot say I will do this or that at Roubaix. I have a different mentality toward racing, toward what I am capable of doing.”

Those comments reflect Phinney’s continuing evolution as a rider who is still grappling with serious injuries that nearly ended his career at the U.S. national championships in May 2014. The devastating crash left him with broken bones and a wrecked knee, and he admits he is still not at 100 percent strength in his left leg. At the start of the 2016 season, he simply doesn’t know how far he can go in his return. Paris-Roubaix, set for April 10, is circled on his calendar.

“[Roubaix] is the only real race on my schedule right now,” Phinney told journalists during a group chat at the team camp. “The only race I had on my schedule last year was worlds, and that went pretty well … That was in September, and I’ve had a fair amount of time for rehab and strengthening on my left side.”

Phinney is referring to his inspirational ride at the UCI Road World Championships, held in September in Richmond, Virginia. His 12th place in the time trial assured the U.S. national team of at least one place against the clock at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August, and his strong performance in the elite men’s road race, including a breakaway effort in the closing laps, was a milestone.

At 261.4km, the elite men’s road race was the longest race Phinney had ridden since he was 30th at the 2014 Paris-Roubaix.

The 25-year-old Phinney joined his BMC Racing teammates in southern Spain before the holidays for a pre-season training camp. Following his successful return to competition last summer, he’s optimistic his recovery can continue on an upward trajectory, and races such as Paris-Roubaix can once again be realistic goals.

Phinney’s roadmap into 2016 remains fairly unmarked. Right now, he’s penciled in to race the three-day Cycliste International La Provence in France on February 23-25. After that, he hopes to race Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico. Those races will go a long way toward determining if he’s ready to handle a full spring classics program, with Milano-Sanremo, E3 Prijs Harelbeke, and Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), or perhaps ease into racing a little less intensely. The main goal in the spring is to line up at Paris-Roubaix.

“If anything has changed, it’s the buildup to my races. I cannot overload my left leg,” he said. “I love the process of building into the season. Last year, I started training in February and didn’t race until August, and that buildup was great for me. I came into Utah and Colorado with a high level even though I was fighting with the imbalance and pain.”

For Phinney, he’s learned that moving forward means tearing up the former script and starting all over again.