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ROUBAIX, France (VN) — BMC Racing scored a podium at Paris-Roubaix with Greg Van Avermaet, but the team was missing the rider whom many believe could win a cobblestoned classic one day: Taylor Phinney.
Far away from the drama of the pavé, Phinney continues his rehab in the wake of his career-threatening crash at last year’s U.S. national championship road race. It’s a slow road, but Phinney is back on the bike, making steady progress. He’s been riding for hours in the mountains around Boulder, Colorado. BMC officials told VeloNews they are cautiously optimistic the two-time Olympian can return to racing before the end of the 2015 season.
“We’re not putting a date or a number on [a comeback], but he continues to make progress,” BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz told VeloNews. “According to the trainers, he’s able to put out more watts, more hours on the bike. He’s on the road, not on the turbo-trainer. We’re hopeful if he continues the way he’s going, we’ll see him racing before the end of summer.”
As Ochowicz said, it’s still too early to tell exactly when Phinney will be able to return to competition. Ideally, he could be able to race again sometime by August, but that remains to be determined by his progress.
What’s sure is that he will not be racing at the Amgen Tour of California nor defend his U.S. national time trial title next month. There’s a glimmer of hope he might be able to compete in the other major date on the U.S. racing calendar: the world championships in Richmond, Va., slated for September.
“No, we’d love to have him there, but it’s not going to happen,” Ochowicz said of California. “Worlds? Well, we don’t select the worlds team, but if he’s riding well, we have the world team time trial, so we’d love to have him to help defend our title. He’s going to have to race; he just can’t show up at the worlds. He would have to be in Canada, and do something before that, maybe Colorado or the Tour of Poland.”
It’s nearly been a year since Phinney crashed in the U.S. national road race on May 26. The 24-year-old continues to make progress from what was a very complicated injury, and BMC officials are hesitant to put a date on a possible return just yet.
“There is no way to predict a timeline of him coming back. It was a complicated injury, and everyone knew it would take a lot of rehab, and a lot new ideas,” Ochowicz said. “A lot of people have been involved, not only from our team, but people in Boulder, where he’s doing his PT.”
Just two days after winning the U.S. individual time trial title, Phinney crashed on the descent of Tennessee’s Lookout Mountain. He suffered compound fractures to his tibia and patella on his left leg, and, in an injury even more complicated for a cyclist, ruptured the patellar tendon at the left knee.
Like any major, complicated injury for an elite athlete, there remains a question if Phinney will be able to return to his previous high level of performance.
Ochowicz remains hopeful Phinney can resume his place at the elite of the peloton. At 24, Phinney was emerging as a major U.S. star, the kind of rider who could have fan and media interest in any race he started.
There are no guarantees, and Phinney is at a crossroads, but Ochowicz was quick to shoot down suggestions that Phinney’s career could be over.
“Nobody’s made that [possible retirement] official. Those are just rumors. In the end, it will be up to him, and how does he feel about his progress. About his ability to be able to race at this level,” Ochowicz said, just moments after Paris-Roubaix finished.
“This is his race [Roubaix], this is where he belongs,” Ochowicz continued. “I’d like to have him come back to race some time before the end of the year, so he can do a strong winter program, and then he can start thinking about Flanders and Roubaix [in 2016]. It’s important that he races before the end of the year for that purpose.”