Phinney in pink before Stage 2. Photo courtesy of BMC Racing Team
Ever since Taylor Phinney won the Junior World Time Trial Championship in 2007, pundits have been saying that the Boulder, Colorado, native would eventually be one of the next big names in American cycling. Someday came sooner than expected yesterday, when, less than two years after turning pro, the 21-year-old won the Giro d'Italia's opening prologue and roared into the race lead.
Phinney blasted the technical, wind-strafed 8.7-kilometer time trial in 10 minutes and 26 seconds, beating his nearest competition by nine seconds. That might not sound like a lot, but in a discipline where wins and losses are often measured in tenths of seconds, it's an immense margin and speaks to Phinney's talent and promise. The son of cycling Olympic medalists Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter, the precocious American was no stranger to the upper echelons of cycling even before the win. By donning the maglia rosa, the pink jersey worn by the leader of the race, Phinney joins some rarefied company: He's the youngest rider to lead the Giro since Tour de France champ Laurent Fignon (1982), one of eight Americans to win a Giro stage (Greg Lemond and Tyler Hamilton among them), and only the third American to ever wear pink, after Andy Hampsten (1988) and Christian Vande Velde (2008).
Phinney in the prologue start house. Photo courtesy of BMC Racing Team
Phinney decided well before the season to make the opening Giro stage a mainstay of his 2012 campaign. "It was last fall when Taylor decided this was a goal and this was an event he could perform in," said Jim Ochowicz, manager of Phinney's BMC Racing Team. "He made the commitment last October, and he delivered the goods." Phinney underlined the point. "I've been thinking about this for a really long time, this jersey and this win," he said. "I knew warming up I felt really good and I've done a lot to prepare for it." The win was the biggest of the season so far for BMC Racing Team, which has had a mostly quiet opening to 2012, with reigning Tour de France champion Cadel Evans focusing his efforts on July and classics strong man Philippe Gilbert shut out at the Ardennes.
After the victory, Phinney was cautiously optimistic that he could keep the race lead until the stage 4 team time trial in Verona on Wednesday. "We'll take it day-by-day," he said. "But I'd like to keep it until at least in Verona. To be able to sport it in Italy would be pretty special."
Phinney's time in pink was almost cut short on Stage 2 when, eight kilometers from the finish, he lost contact with the peloton after crashing and being further waylaid by a subsequent mechanical. He closed half of the 38-second gap on his own and was then joined by three teammates who paced him back into the main field with less than five kilometers to the stage end. Team Sky's Mark Cavendish easily won the crash-marred sprint, and Phinney, who finished with the same time, kept his pink for another day.