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Ride like Taylor Phinney

29 Mar 2018

The likeable American time-trial specialist with a never-say-die attitude

If anyone was born to ride a bike, it’s Taylor Phinney, the son of Davis Phinney, the first American to win a stage of the Tour de France, and Connie Carpenter-Phinney, who won gold in the Road Race at the 1984 Olympics.

Following in his parents’ tyre tracks, Taylor made an impact at an early age, with numerous world titles on both track and road at under-23 level.

A rider of immense power and indefatigable endurance, he is a natural against the clock, winning the US National Time Trial title three times.

He has also shown his all-round ability with overall victory at the Dubai Tour stage race, but his career was nearly ended in 2014 when a serious crash at the US National Championships shattered his left leg.

Doctors feared he’d never ride a bike again, but his perseverance and determination saw him return to road racing in 2016.

He finally made his long-awaited Tour de France debut in 2017, where he made his mark as early as stage two, by getting involved in a breakaway that earned him the right to wear the coveted King of the Mountains jersey – albeit only for one stage.

Expect to see him returning to racing action soon in the one-day Spring Classics.

Fact file

Name: Taylor Phinney
Nickname: Mini Phinney
Date of birth: 27 June 1990 (age 27)
Born: Boulder, Colorado
Rider type: Time Trial Specialist
Professional teams: 2009-10 Trek-Livestrong; 2011-16 BMC Racing Team; 2017-present Cannondale-Drapac (now EF Education First-Drapac)
Palmarès: US National Time Trial Champion 2010, 2014, 2016; Giro d’Italia 1 individual stage win 2012; Dubai Tour overall winner 2014; World U23 Time Trial Champion 2010; World Junior Time Trial Champion 2007; Paris-Roubaix U23 winner 2009, 2010


Don't quit

What? On stage 7 of the 2014 Tirreno-Adriatico race, brutal weather conditions and seriously hilly terrain saw Phinney struggling along with the grupetto some way behind the race leaders.

As freezing rain and snow fell, riders dropped out one by one until Phinney was left riding alone for the last 120km. But he didn’t quit and finished the stage – albeit outside the time limit!

How? Phinney cites his stubbornness as the reason he was able to keep going, but there was one other big influence.

‘The main thing is that I was thinking about my dad the whole time and I was like, I can’t stop now!’

Now suffering from Parkinson’s disease, Phinney Snr is a constant source of inspiration to Taylor for his determination to overcome its debilitating effects.

We can all look to similar examples of friends and family in our own lives to give us the motivation to keep going when times are tough.


Take the weight off your own shoulders

What? Tipped as a future star of the Classics, Phinney’s progress was held back by his injury, but he still looks forward to making his mark on the sport’s biggest races – but on his own terms.

‘I haven’t really been a player in any of the major Classics yet. Finishing both Flanders and Roubaix was a huge milestone,’ he said in 2016.

‘Once it got to five or six hours, my left leg used to just shut down, so just being able to do those races and finish in the top 50 I thought was pretty amazing, considering I couldn’t walk two years ago.’

How? The pressure of expectation can feel like a great weight on your shoulders – whether it is the expectation of others, or your own ambition to achieve success.

Instead of focusing on potentially unachievable long-term goals, aim for what Phinney calls ‘organic growth’. ‘Now I’m developing my own path, and my own vision,’ he says.

If pushing to achieve your targets is getting you down, ease the burden by recalibrating your goals to something you know you can realistically accomplish.


Break the pain barrier

What? Making his return to top-level racing in late 2015, Phinney won the first stage of the USA Pro Challenge stage race with a brilliant individual attack in the final kilometre, and just a few weeks later was part of the BMC Racing Team squad that won the Team Time Trial at the UCI World Championships.

Although his injured leg was still a long way from full fitness, he showed that he still had the desire to push through the pain to win races.

How? According to the Velominati, authors of The Rules, the pain of riding hard – that burning feeling in your legs and lungs – shouldn’t be an excuse to ease off but a cue to push even harder.

As Phinney says, ‘Once I was able to start going hard, I really experienced the mental freedom of the harder I go, the less I can process anything.

‘There’s something beautiful about being in the moment of what you’re doing, but using pain as a way to do that.’

In other words, ride so hard you can’t think about how much it hurts!


Keep your sense of humour

What? Phinney is known for his easy-going attitude to life and sense of fun, and it’s normal to see him with a broad smile across his face.

Despite the long and painful rehabilitation process following his leg injury, he managed to retain this sense of fun and even posted a pic on social media of his scarred leg, on which he had stuck a temporary cartoon Frankenstein tattoo.

How? ‘Humour is something that is entirely your choice,’ he explains. ‘You can either take yourself way too seriously and be emotionally invested in your situation, or you can poke fun at it.’

Numerous scientific studies have shown that a positive outlook can actually help speed up recovery after an injury, so it’s worth following Phinney’s example – next time you have a spell off the bike, instead of dwelling on your fears, look for the things in life that make you smile and focus on them instead.


Do it because you love it

What? Although 2016 saw some success for Phinney, with a third US National Time Trial title, he came very close to quitting cycling altogether, feeling that he had lost his reason for riding.

‘We’re in this place in the sport where it’s like “watts, watts, watts, go up to altitude, boom, boom, boom”.

But hold on, why? No one tells you why,’ he explained.

How? Phinney’s career-threatening crash in 2014 forced him to re-evaluate his reasons for riding, leading to a rediscovery of the essence of the sport.

‘Cycling is the most beautifully sensory experience you can have as a human,’ he says.

‘Going up and down mountains, you can ride for 12 hours and still keep going. That’s the heart and soul of cycling – not the numbers.’

To get a sense of what he means, leave your Garmin at home next time you go out, forget about chasing Strava KOMs and just take in the scenery, enjoy the company and rediscover why you fell in love with cycling in the first place.

Ride pure

What? Phinney is known for his strong anti-doping stance, tweeting in 2013: ‘I love to see @StevoCummings win. He, like me, follows his own personal policy of no caffeine pills and no painkillers. Purest of the pure!’

He even refused pain relief during the post-crash surgery on his leg in 2014. As one of the operating doctors said at the time, ‘He kept saying, “No, we’re doing this old school, Civil War style. Cut me open, do what you gotta do, but no meds!”’

How? We wouldn’t advocate going quite as far as Phinney in refusing pain medication when you really need it but there’s a lot to be said for taking a pure approach to riding your bike.

Artificial stimulants and pain-relief medication can give you a short-term boost when you’re not feeling at your best, but it’s worth stopping to consider why you are taking them.

Riding through the pain barrier is one thing, but persevering when you have an injury could cause lasting damage, and while caffeine may stop you dozing off on the bike, ask yourself if you might benefit more by stopping for a proper rest.

Above all, be sensible and look after your own health.

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