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After 14 months of rehabilitation and reflection, Taylor Phinney returns to bicycle racing in this week’s Tour of Utah. How his battered but mended body will respond is unknown, but the BMC rider is eager to return to the peloton.
“I am not super nervous; I think I am more anxious,” Phinney said Sunday on the eve of weeklong’s race pre-race press conference in Logan. “I’ve just been waiting for a long time to get going and just do it. I will be happy once we get on the starting line and we go for it.”
The 710-mile (1143km) race begins Monday with a 132.1-mile (212.5km) stage 1 that starts and finishes in Logan.
Phinney’s multiple leg injuries in the 2014 U.S. national championship road race in Tennessee have been well-documented. Many in the sport, including the rider himself, thought his rapidly advancing pro career could have ended just as he was starting to really get going, with a stage win and the overall victory at the Tour of Dubai, a stage win at the Tour of California, and the national championship time trial title all secured that season.
“For sure, there were times when I didn’t think I was going to race again, said Phinney, 25. “I am glad I kind of had to think about that. You know, at the age of 24 having to think about my life without the bike. It puts a lot of things into perspective. It makes you realize how lucky we all are to be here racing our bikes.”
Phinney had discussed returning to competition in Utah since after an earlier potential return at the Tour of California didn’t materialize. Phinney and teammate Peter Stetina announced their participation Friday.
“My return to racing is more of a personal thing,” Phinney said. “I didn’t want to have too much external pressure by announcing it too early. My team was really supportive. They said, ‘If you want to go to Utah, you can decide three days before the race if you want to and you can decide not to race three days before the race if you want to.’”
“I’ve been doing really good the past couple of weeks. I’ve been training hard for a while, so I was excited to announce that I was going to race, but like I said, it was more of a personal thing.”
Phinney’s extended break from cycling led him to a growing interest in painting. His support included the guidance from parents Connie Carpenter-Phinney and Davis Phinney whose pro careers were full of both successes and setbacks from injuries. Carpenter-Phinney was the 1984 Olympic road race gold medalist. Davis Phinney had 328 career wins.
In 1988, Davis Phinney crashed into the back window of a team career while racing in Europe and suffered extensive facial injuries. Sixteen years ago, at age 40, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
“We didn’t so much compare injuries,” said Taylor Phinney. “He had all these scars on his face, but his body was fine. He went through a kind of identity crisis because his beautiful face wasn’t so beautiful anymore. My face was fine and I’m not saying it’s a beautiful face. It was more of a threat to a career in my instance.
“But I think I took a lot of courage and inspiration from his battle with Parkinson’s. Being around that, being around someone who’s constantly struggling and only trying to slow a decline. In my case, you’ve hit rock bottom, but you’re always coming back up. I realized how lucky I was that I am was going continue to improve.”
In addition to Phinney and Stetina, the amended BMC roster for the Tour of Utah will also include Brent Bookwalter, Michael Schär, Joey Rosskopf, Kilian Frankiny, and Manuel Senni.
“I am so excited to come back, but I haven’t come back yet,” Phinney said with a chuckle. “I still have to race tomorrow. I’ve got to see how that feels first. But I am looking forward to it and it will be nice to get back into it, for sure. And for sure, since all this time has expired my body just wants to go. I get one more night of sleep and then I’m going to hit it.”