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Phinney keeps on surprising in Utah

Taylor Phinney's return to racing at the Tour of Utah was a surprise by itself, but his impressive riding has exceeded expectation as well

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SALT LAKE CITY (VN) — Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) has pedaled into the unknown this week at the Tour of Utah, and he’s surprised himself so far.

Phinney’s announcement that he would return to racing after a 14-month injury hiatus just three days before the start of the Tour of Utah was a surprise to the wider cycling community all by itself. But on top of that, his performance in the weeklong race has been unexpected, too.

“I am super satisfied,” Phinney said. “I was just off the front group in the second and third stages. I would have been really happy with that even before the accident. I was pretty confident that I had the fitness to be OK, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to do racing.

“I didn’t have any blocks of training that were over three days. Oh, I did a couple of five-day things. But it’s just different in a race. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be alright after three or four stages.”

Phinney’s first race since his potentially career-ending leg injuries at the 2014 USA Cycling Professional Road Championships produced immediate results. He finished third in opening stage in Logan, just behind friends and training partners Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare) and Alex Howes (Cannondale-Garmin).

“It was pretty unexpected but it was a special day for Kiel, Alex and myself,” said Phinney, who finished mid-pack in the first mountain stage of his comeback. “I don’t think I could have asked for a better way to come back, except for maybe winning a stage.”

With teammate Brent Bookwalter riding into general classification contention early in the race, Phinney’s responsibilities changed, and his work in the role of domestique proved fruitful. On the final climb of a seven-lap circuit in stage 5, Phinney controlled the pace of the front group, keeping an eye out for Bookwalter in an effort to help pilot him toward the finish.

“I’ve done a fair share of leadout related things, although maybe not for a sprint like that,” said Phinney, whose team GC leader slipped from second to sixth in the general classification after Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin) took a solo win and the race lead in the Tour of Utah’s sixth stage.

“Before I had my crash, I think I was starting to figure out what I needed to do to climb better and to get over hills better. I was starting to know what I needed to eat and how I needed to train. Then I had the crash. I am trying to come back with the same mindset. I’ve lost some weight and basically I feel a bit better.”

Although enthusiastic in his return, the two-time former national time trial champion is still uncertain about what he will do next. He hopes to compete in both the USA Pro Challenge beginning Aug. 17 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and the World Championships in Richmond, Virginia, in mid-September. But Phinney’s itinerary won’t be determined until next week.

“I came to this race thinking, ‘I just want to finish the Tour of Utah,'” said Phinney. “I am looking forward to Colorado, but it’s not a definite. I require about two hours of physical therapy and massage and different adjustments of my body daily, just make sure I can start the next day.

“I have to really stay on top of that. I can’t get lazy when it comes to that stuff. I still have some work to do bringing the strength back up on my left side. So as I progress and move forward, it’s going to be even better. But I am super happy with how the last five days went.”