There are riders and then there are stars and Taylor Phinney has been in the latter category from when he first crossed a leg over a racing machine. It’s not just his royal lineage that makes him a star (for those of you new to this, his mother Connie is a two-sport Olympian and Gold medalist in the 1984 LA road race and his father the first-ever American stage winner at the Tour) but his incredible ability, beautiful style on the bicycle and most of all, as with all true stars, his sense of occasion. He knows when and how to unleash.
Why is it that the gods had decreed that every American cycling champion has to overcome a terrible physical blow in order to eventually succeed? Greg Lemond was shot in a hunting accident, Lance beat cancer and now Phinney has overcome a dreadful leg injury from 2014 that has taken until now to put right.
The Cannondale-Drapac rider, before 2014, was on his way to becoming the American Fabian Cancellara – a big, powerful dominant force in time trials and a man made for the Northern European Classics – after all, Phinney had already won the U-23 Paris-Roubaix and been a three-time world champion between time trials and the ultimate speed/power event, the track pursuit. It was so exciting, we finally had a racer of intelligence matched with massive power, and an almost perfect technical cycling ability – no Belgian could ever out-Belgian him in a crazy rainy race.
Then the tragic crash, the horrible photos of the Frankenstein monster leg, and the accounts of his rehab, his drifting away from the sport and the sense that something wonderful had been destroyed.
This is where the star part comes in: a true star has an unquenchable ego and a deep and unwavering knowledge that they belong in the spotlight – think Madonna. While the newly reflective Phinney may have been painting and pursing other interests during his time in the desert, the star within him was thinking, plotting, and working with maniacal dedication to get back to his ordained place at the top.
The moment was perfectly chosen yesterday –one of the biggest viewing audiences of the Tour, a dramatic breakaway that came down to the last kilometer, confusion behind with the crash of Froome, the podium in polkadot – there wasn’t a dry eye in the house – the kid was back.
It’s what I spoke of yesterday, the reality TV facet of the Tour. The emotional backstories that, because of the savage nature of the race, are amplified for three-weeks in July.
Today was Valverde’s stage to win…
John Eustice, is the organizer of the Thompson Bucks County Classic in Doylestown, Pennsylvania and a long-time cycling analyst who has contributed to ESPN, ABC Sports, Time Magazine, and CNN among others. The Bucks County native resides in New York City. He was a pioneer on the European racing circuit and is a two-time United States Professional Champion.