American Phinney to lead BMC Racing in world title defense

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) The jagged scars running up Taylor Phinney's left calf and across his knee read like a road map of what he's overcome since a devastating crash threatened his cycling career.

The surgeries. The painful rehabilitation. The long days spent soul-searching.

Reclining in a chair just off Broad Street, where Phinney will compete in each of the three main races in this year's world championships over the next week, he acknowledges his return to the world stage has exceeded even his ambitious expectations.

''It's gone a lot better than I anticipated for a lot of reasons, a lot of them mental,'' said Phinney, who tore numerous ligaments and broke several bones in the crash during last year's U.S. national championships. ''And now being in Richmond and racing all three races, it's a huge bonus, a huge plus. It's not something I was expecting.''

First up is Sunday's team time trial, where Phinney will attempt to help BMC Racing defend its world championship in the only race that involves trade teams rather than national teams.

After that, he will don the stars-and-stripes jersey and represent the U.S. in the men's time trial on Wednesday, and as part of a six-man team in the road race next weekend.

While he refuses to put any kind of expectations on his performance this week, the 25-year-old cyclist knows all eyes are on him. He's the best chance of a strong U.S. result in the time trial, which would guarantee a spot in the event for next year's Rio Olympics, and his ability to handle classics-style courses makes him an outside threat in the road race.

''It's going to be cool to see what kind of boost the crowd can give me,'' Phinney said. ''The worlds hasn't been here in almost 30 years. You'll have thousands and thousands of people screaming for the USA, most of them probably drunk, so they'll be screaming at even higher decibel levels.''

In Sunday's team time trial, Phinney will join Australian star Rohan Dennis and four others on an undulating, 24-mile course that begins north of Richmond and finishes downtown.

''We've got a good lineup. We can't deny that,'' Dennis said. ''But at the same time, you can't be content with what you've got. There could be other guys hungrier. We just have to do our own race and not act like we're the favorites.''

Then again, the U.S.-based team may not be the favorites.

That mantle may belong to Belgium-based Etixx-Quick-Step, which won back-to-back titles after the event was reintroduced in 2012. The team is anchored by three-time individual time trial champ Tony Martin, and features Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra and Rigoberto Uran.

''I saw the course on Sunday, and I have to say it will be pretty fast,'' sports director Tom Steels said. ''There are some long, straight sections where the speed will be really high. There will also be fast downhills. So, keeping the right rhythm is important.''

Other teams with medal aspirations include Australia-based Orica-GreenEDGE, whose lineup includes Luke Durbridge, Svein Tuft and Michael Hepburn, and Tinkoff-Saxo, which includes former time trial champion Michael Rogers and flamboyant Slovakian star Peter Sagan.

''There are no clear favorites and, if we stick to the strategy, we've got a chance,'' Tinkoff-Saxo sports director Sean Yates said. ''BMC, Orica and Etixx are surely some of the teams that will prove hard to beat, but we want to muster in there.''

Before the men's teams take to the course Sunday, the women's teams get their shot.

The heavy favorite is Velocio-SRAM, which has won all three previous events under its former incarnation, Specialized-lululemon. But its lineup will be different than years past, and the team was recently beaten by Rabo-Liv at the Vargarda World Cup in Sweden.

Along with those two teams, Boels Dolmlans and Wiggle-Honda should also be in the mix.

''I like the fact that more teams are riding within close reach to each other, which makes the event more interesting and does show even more the beauty of it,'' Velocio-SRAM sports director Ronny Lauke said. ''Everything needs to be ready, in place and work out at a particular time on a particular day, and we only can focus on ourselves, with no influence what others are doing.''

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