• Taylor Phinney - here posing for a US Olympic Games portrait late 2015 - says Paris-Roubaix is only going to get better for him from now on
Taylor Phinney will return to Paris-Roubaix on Sunday two years after a crash that threatened his career and potential to contest the monument he has proved naturally adept at.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
10 Apr 2016 - 8:44 AM  UPDATED 10 Apr 2016 - 8:51 AM

The American in three professional starts has never finished outside the top 30 and will have a free role, afforded to all BMC riders in the absence of injured team leader Greg Van Avermaet.

Phinney was a surprise selection for the Tour of Flanders last week but Roubaix has always been on his 2016 programme that took into consideration ongoing physical rehabilitation.

The 25-year-old made his comeback to racing last season after a well-documented crash at the 2014 U.S. National Road Championships in which his left leg was shattered from the knee down.

“I’ve known since the beginning of the season that I would be doing Roubaix. The initial plan was that even if I wasn’t able to do any of the classics I would do Roubaix just to have the experience and get back into that kind of a race,” he told Cycling Central from Belgium.

“But I showed that I can perform in the Belgium classics and so I ended up doing Flanders as well, which I wasn’t expecting to do but was a pleasant surprise.”

Phinney on Friday was conservative in his approach to the 257.7km race that includes 27 cobbled sectors and may be particularly “gnarly” if forecast rain eventuates.

“I’m happy if it rains. It’s actually a lot less dangerous than if it is dry, in a strange, kind of ironic way,” he said. “I’ve never done Roubaix in the wet so it would be interesting.”

Phinney made his pro debut at the race in 2012 riding to a memorable 15th place as a second-year professional. He is modest though not less sure of himself in terms of outcomes ahead of the 114th edition, which won’t include defending champion John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin).

“I’m confident in my ability to race and be there and help the guys out in the final,” he said. “I’m more appreciative I think of the fact I’m just able to do it. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do Roubaix ever again.

"After the injury, I was thinking maybe I would have to change my riding style and go for classics that are more like the Ardennes but I’ve been able to come back and handle the cobbles pretty well.

"It’s only going to get better from this edition onwards.”

The trade team time trial world champion admitted his left knee has been problematic this season though more so in stage races where fatigue is exacerbated.

“The range of motion is something that I might be able to get back but it’s always going to be a little bit different than my right side,” he said. “The ligaments get a little bit tight and the joint can get clunky sometimes so it needs a good pair of hands to un-clunk it!

“Strength wise I definitely have some work to do but I think the knee joint is in a stronger place after having raced so it will set me up pretty well for doing some strengthening after I’m done with this race.”

Phinney was strong at Flanders last week finishing with a main group of 58 riders that crossed the line seven minutes and 19 seconds in arrears of winner Peter Sagan (Tinkoff). It was a solid performance from the burgeoning specialist, who is more practiced at Roubaix.

“If you enter every cobble section in the top 10 or top 20 guys then you’re going to be there in the finish. At the end of the day it’s mostly about positioning,” he said. “There’s a big fight for position every time before the cobbles and that’s where most of the stress comes from and most of the crashes come from.

“It’s definitely a full-on race in that aspect where it’s physically really hard and mentally really demanding.”