Taylor Phinney bounces back from crash for second in the Springs — and maybe first in Denver

“The Denver time trial has been my carrot that I’ve been chasing this whole week,” Phinney said

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (VN) — With two stages remaining, BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen is the race leader of the USA Pro Challenge, but on Friday’s stage from Breckenridge to Colorado Springs, Taylor Phinney was one of the team’s protected riders.

The 22-year-old Phinney — who hails from Boulder, Colorado, the finishing town for Saturday’s stage 6 — had a free ride in the peloton for the day, and returned the favor by finishing second in the field sprint behind Garmin-Sharp’s Tyler Farrar.

“The boys gave me free rein today to go for the sprint. There were only a couple occasions when I had to be in the wind to protect Tejay,” Phinney said. “There were some crosswinds, nothing too major.

“The boys did an amazing job through the Garden of the Gods and coming down into (Colorado Springs) to keep Tejay and myself out of trouble. We didn’t have to worry about a thing. It was really great. I wanted to get up there in the sprint. I have a relatively good kick, but against a guy like Farrar, it’s a little difficult for me.”

Phinney, who also finished second in the bunch kick for the bronze medal at the Olympic road race, said he had put in a good sprint, but not a great sprint.

“I did wait a little bit too long,” he said. “There was a moment when I was third wheel and I was thinking, ‘All right, this is perfect. As soon as they start coming up on my right, I’m going to go.’ Then a fraction of a second later Farrar was next to me, and a guy next to him, and I had to scoot my way around them, and by the time I found a gap Farrar had already taken off and I was a little bit left behind.”

The result was confirmation that Phinney has recovered from a crash in Durango on Monday during the opening kilometers of the first stage, which left him with road rash on his left elbow and an inflamed left knee.

“The first stage really took it out of me,” Phinney said. “I crashed about 1km into the stage. It was just a silly crash. No real time to react, just overlapping wheels and I was on the ground. I hit my knee on my top tube.

“I had to pull the rest of that stage. It was a long day, 210km, so I dug myself into a pretty big hole that day. It definitely took me a couple of days to bring myself out of it and back into the light. Today was the first day that I was feeling normal again, to my full potential. It’s a great sign. I was very, very close to pulling the plug on the way to Aspen.”

Phinney came to the USA Pro Challenge with two objectives — to help his close friend van Garderen win the overall, and to win Sunday’s 15km time trial in Denver. Thus far he’s well on his way to accomplishing his first objective, but after his crash, and riding hard at the front for several days, his second objective has been open to interpretation.

“I was thinking about the Boulder stage and the Denver stage that whole time going up Independence Pass,” Phinney said about stage 3, which ended with a climb over 12,000 feet before dropping into Aspen.

“I was saying to myself, ‘You’ve got to do this, for yourself, for your state, for your team, for your family.’ For me this is my Tour de France, here in Colorado. It’s just so cool that this race even exists. I’m really happy and relieved to be back to my normal self.”

Asked if he believes he can win Sunday’s time trial, Phinney — who finished fourth at the Olympic time trial earlier this month — said he believes he can pull off the stage win, hopefully joining his teammate at the podium celebration.

The other true TT specialists in the field are Garmin’s Dave Zabriskie, who has been riding in the wind all week, and Optum’s Tom Zirbel, third at the U.S. national TT championship. Van Garderen, Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp), Andreas Klöden (RadioShack-Nissan) and Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) are all also potential TT stage winners.

“The Denver time trial has been my carrot that I’ve been chasing this whole week,” Phinney said. “Besides getting Tejay the GC, the Denver TT is something that I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’m really happy to say that I’ve brought my level back up since the crash and I’m on some good form. Even going into tomorrow’s Boulder stage I’ll try and help Tejay as much as possible.

“But yeah, that Denver TT is very important to me, for sure.”