We’ve read A LOT of Taylor Phinney stories in the aftermath of his eighth place finish at Paris-Roubaix. This story, penned by Caley Fretz of CyclingTips, is hands-down the best.
There are three different muscles cramping in Taylor Phinney’s left leg. He points at them, one by one. You can see them quivering, shaking in time with his own grimace. It’s been a minute or so since he lapped the Roubaix velodrome, sprinted for eighth place, rode onto the infield, and sat down with his back to a metal fence. His legs splay out in front of him, covered in sweat and mud. The white scar down his left knee is just visible beneath the grime. He stares off into space. His breathing slows. As it does, he seems to return to the world around him.
The first four things he says are:
How’d Sep do?
Ahh, fuck me.
What a spectacle.”
In true Phinney fashion: Wonder, care, self-reflection, and truth, in that order.
There was a time, years ago, when Phinney seemed almost destined to win this race. His coaches and directors were sure of it. American bike racing fans were sure of it. He won the U23 version, twice, in 2009 and 2010. At 21 years old, in his first elite edition, he finished 15th — the top American. Then the crash, bone sticking out through skin, left leg of the prodigy smashed to bits. A recovery that stretched into years and felt, for a long time, like it might never end. Or like he didn’t want it to end. Maybe he’d rather just paint.
Phinney hates the term “comeback,” but this is his story now. The pull of what could have been against the realities of what is. It’s been a roller coaster. Moments when that raw talent seems about to shine, then long stretches where it goes back into hiding. Every couple months one side or the other seems to gain a slight edge.