- Taylor Phinney
September 20, 2010, 10:57 BST,
September 20, 2010, 12:58 BST
A learning experience at the race of the future
Before becoming US time trial champion, Taylor Phinney wrote this entertaining account of his experiences at the Tour de l'Avenir.
Literally translated as Tour of the Future, the Tour de l'Avenir is a mini Tour de France for U23 riders. Avenir is the biggest race of the season for us. Run by ASO, the same organization that runs the Tour de France, it is almost exactly the same in every way except that it is shorter and everyone is under the age of 23. The jerseys are the same, the courses, the way they are set up, the following cars, the motorcycles, everything is scaled after the Tour de France. Bernard Hinault even comes out and stands on the podium to congratulate the riders. The yellow jersey even gets a TdF lion every day on the podium...
So needless to say, the Tour de l'Avenir is pretty rad.
Originally, before my crash at Tour of Denmark, I wasn't planning on attending Avenir. But, unfortunately for me, I came down hard on my left knee and had to fly back to my home in Boulder, CO. From there I went to Tour of Utah, had a good showing, winning the prologue and time trial ahead of a stellar US field. Granted, I did finish in the gruppetto every day (the gruppetto being the last group on the road, usually containing the sprinters and non-climbers i.e. me), so I was fresh for that TT, but it is always nice to say you beat Levi in a time trial... Even if he was wasn't wearing a skin suit but bibs over a jersey, and only by two seconds. Hey, a win is a win right! I'm rambling...moving on.
After Utah, I flew to Lucca, Italy where I'm planning to live next year. My Mom came with me because I am still a small child and I like it when she takes care of me. We found an awesome apartment for me to live in, and took a couple days to adjust to the time change before I headed to France to meet up with Team USA.
Team USA had a rock star line-up for Avenir. Our team leader/mountain goat was US U23 National TT champ and winner of many mountainous races this year, Andrew Talansky. Andrew is a special breed. And I mean that in the best way possible. The guy has a very intense focus, and is a goal-setter, which is what I like a lot about him. Too many riders in this sport just go out and race with no goals. Talansky had been eyeing Avenir all year and specially prepped for it. It makes it easier to work for someone so focused because you know they are going to deliver. Beyond Talansky, we had a group of the best riders the US has produced to this day. Alex Howes was last years U23 National Road and Criterium champ. He also won the Snowbird stage at Tour of Utah last year, a result which got him a lot of attention! We had a falling out last summer but have since then made peace and have actually become great friends. Alex is an incredible teammate and never fails to make me laugh.
Ben King was this year's U23 National Road and Criterium champ, as well as U23 Pan American Rad and TT champ. Ben has an incredible motor and is a guy who could ride the front of a race for 10 days in a row, by himself if he had to. Chris Butler raced for Team BMC this year and was our secret weapon in the mountains. Chris is a quiet guy but will crack a joke every once in a while at the dinner table that causes an eruption of laughter. We also nicknamed him bluebird because he looks a bit like the little bird from Twitter. Ian Boswell just got 3rd behind Levi Leipheimer at Tour of Utah, an incredible result for a 19-year-old. Ian might be the funniest guy I've ever met, period. And finally that leaves me... My role at Avenir was to win the prologue, go for sprints and help the boys at the base of climbs and I was pretty excited to get things rolling.
The prologue was 7.8km long with the first 3km stair-stepping up a climb. After a 1km fast and incredibly bumpy descent, there was a 3-4km drag race to the finish. I was a little worried about the hill at the beginning because if you went to hard or too easy on it, you could lose the race right there. I knew I had good form after Utah, but also knew that Alex Dowsett (who was 2nd in Utah prologue) was also going to be fast. I was second to last starting at 3:58 and had the whole day to kill before hand. Before prologues I eat 4-5 hours in advance just to limit the possibility of...well...throwing anything up from going so hard. So as you could imagine, that gives me a fair amount of time to do absolutely nothing. Luckily the hotel we were staying in had internet, even if it was glacially slow. Still, I could load my Fabian Cancellara YouTube videos and visualize TT perfection. Time goes slowly leading up to the prologue but eventually I wound up on the trainer with 50 minutes to my start.
My warm-up felt good, my tunes were good and I was visualizing all the right things. Doubts would pop up in my head every once and a while but I made sure to squash each and every one. I felt a lot of pressure for this prologue. It's hard when everyone 'knows' you are going to win, and especially when they tell you. All the time. But you just have to keep your head on straight and do the best you can. I knew if my legs were good, and my head was good, the race would take care of itself.
Fast forward 49 minutes and I'm sitting in the start box. The first 300m were uphill at about 8% so I started in the little ring. 5,4,3 – breathe in – 2,1, GO! I got up to speed quickly in my little gear and got into the bars. I had no radio, no way of knowing how I was comparing with the others but I prefer it that way anyways: once I get out there, it’s just me. I knew the course, I knew what I had to do, and well, if I'm honest, I did it. The legs felt great, my shifting was just right. The stair stepping hill was not a problem, the descent, while a bit sketchy, was fine, and I had left enough gas for the drag race to the finish.
With about 2km to go I knew that I had done everything right and therefore it'd be hard for someone to beat me but I kept the pressure on, tried not to take any risks in the corners and powered to the finish. It's funny, with the amount of pressure I had felt before the stage, winning it was more of a relief than anything else. Dowsett had come second to me again and I felt bad for taking another win from such a good friend. Hopefully it just makes him hungrier our many battles in the future. Needless to say, I was a happy camper, the team was stoked but as Boswell so eloquently put it; '7.8km down, 1000km to go.' Thanks Boz.
Michael Matthews, a huge talent from Australia was 3rd. The podium was pretty amazing; Bernard Hinault up there congratulating me, the yellow and green jersey with the zip on the back, the lion... If I could put a big toothy grin smiley face emoticon in this blog post I would put it right here. After a cool-down and some congratulations it was time to refocus on the next stage.
This was a stage for the sprinters, so it was a good day for me. Our first goal was to keep the yellow jersey for another day. Fortunately for us, only one rider managed to breakaway so the team had a relatively stress-free day riding the front keeping him in check. While it was calm on the front; behind me, all day all I could hear was carnage. Avenir, being the biggest race of the year apart from the World Championships, can be pretty dangerous with everyone riding for a big result to get noticed and maybe go pro the next year, so we were pretty happy to stay out of the war zone.
The finish was an uphill 800m drag, a finish that would typically suit me because it is all about power. The team was great, sitting on the front, controlling all day, keeping Talansky and I out of trouble. I felt great over the small 1km climbs in the finishing circuit and was hungry for another result. As the finish line approached, the Germans and Australians started to help out and ramped the pace up pretty high. The last 5km consisted of a pretty fast descent, some 90-degree turns and then the straight shot to the finish. I was in prefect position on the descent and fought to stay there on the final turns. My legs felt great and I was eager to make a statement. The team had done so much work and I wanted to show them that I appreciated it by winning.
Unfortunately my luck wasn't quite with me at the finish. I'm not one to make excuses but with 400m to go, sitting on John Degenkolb's wheel I hit a pothole while standing up and my right foot just popped out. I fought to get it back in the pedal but knew my hopes for the win were over. Once I clipped back in I gave everything to try and make the day count getting all the way up to 5th while watching Degenkolb raise his hands in victory. I was pretty unhappy at the finish but the team had accomplished our main goal, which was to hold on to the yellow jersey.
Stage 2: Black Tuesday
At the start of stage 2, it was pouring rain. The forecast had said 20% chance but we all know how accurate weather forecasts are... I was not a terribly happy camper on that Tuesday morning. The course was an unknown, there were 3rd-category climbs at the finish but no one really knew how hard they were. I had felt great on the short climbs the previous day so was looking forward to getting amongst it.
However. The rain. I was still a bit scarred from my crash in Denmark (mentally and physically), so was not looking forward to this crazy field attacking left and right on wet roads. Fortunately in the beginning we stayed safe and a break of only 3 got up the road. For team USA this was actually pretty lucky because 3 riders are still pretty easy to control. The boys lined themselves up on the front just like the day before and did a great job controlling the race. The rain did not stop. For the first 3 hours it rained non stop. Nobody was very happy but that’s bike racing sometimes, so we trudged on.
The breakaway was in check as we came up to the hills and I was feeling good, even hungrier for the stage win than I was the day prior. But just as we crested the first of the last three climbs all hell broke loose. Our team leader, Talansky, flatted and had to get a wheel change leaving him quite a ways off the back. Riders started attacking and the roads started to get narrower. The rain had finally stopped but the roads were mossy and wet making them incredibly slick.
The pack lined up single file as people fought hard to follow the wheel in front of them on the technical first downhill. I saw my Australian Trek-Livestrong teammate Timmy Roe keeled over a barbed wire fence on a tight turn. Bikes were everywhere, bodies were everywhere, my wheels were barely gripping the wet roads. Still being scarred from Denmark, this was my worst nightmare. Meanwhile at the base of the next climb a large group containing Degenkolb had gained an advantage over the strung-out peloton. I got to the front on the climb and drilled the pace, only to have a couple of Colombians go sprinting past me. I followed the wheel but hurt from my effort. At the top of the second-to-last climb the pack was all together but Talansky was still racing behind us to catch up. At this point, there were about 20km left and nobody was going to start slowing down now.
The next descent was worse than the previous. A Belarussian was taking huge risks at the front of the pack and I was just fighting to stay upright. The rider in front of me kept losing the wheel in front of him so on a sweeping left hand turn I came around his right to pass. Then, out of nowhere I was down. I still am not sure what happened because I did not hit my brakes. Maybe someone ran into the back of me, or I just hit a mossy spot... All I remember is the fire that erupted from my arm as I skidded to a halt across the rough road. I remember feeling something hit my back very hard and initially I thought it was my bike but as I looked around I saw the yellow and light blue of a Kazakstan outfit fly over my head.
On the side of the road I was in serious pain. I clutched my arm and tried to keep my composure but I was delirious. I thought of getting back up, but my body wouldn't allow it. I couldn't move, I wouldn't move from where I was, hunched over, sitting on the side of the road, yellow jersey bloodied and dirty, barely hanging off me. Our director Pat Jonker ran up to me as I sat on the side of the road. Alex Howes stopped to check on me, visibly upset at the circumstances. The ambulance showed up and the doctor came to check and see if anything was broken. Pat and the doctor were encouraging me to get in the ambulance but I was slowly emerging from my delirium and refused to quit. Against their strong wishes I told them to shut up and put me back on my bike.
I looked around for my white and yellow Oakleys that I had made specially to match my jersey. They lay on the road about a meter away. As I went to grab for them I saw a flash of silver and heard a loud crunch as the Great Britain car speed off into the distance, my glasses gone from sight. I made sure to give the Brits some crap for that since Dowsett ended up in my jersey. Pat actually found part of my glasses and they were fully intact, just missing the arm pieces which are replaceable.
I slowly got back up after the OK that nothing was broken and hopped on my spare bike. British rider Timmy Kennaugh had also crashed and we rolled slowly over the next climb and down the next descent to the finish. I knew almost immediately after the crash that my yellow jersey chances were over but I wanted to finish not only for myself, but for the guys on Team USA, especially after everything the team had done for me. I might've shed a tear or two as I crossed the finish line, but I tried to keep my head held high as the race doctors cleaned me up and sent me to the hospital.
It was a long evening at the hospital and not much was accomplished but for the many meters of tegaderm and anti-stick bandages that now patched my left side. Once I got back to the hotel it was good to see the guys, get a good meal and have a good sleep. Pat and I decided that if it was raining hard the next morning I wouldn't start, just so as not to run the risk of doing any more damage. I had my fingers crossed.
In one day I had gone from yellow jersey to lanterne rouge (last place), while Talansky hadn't managed to catch on and lost a valuable minute and twenty seconds.
Stage three was the first mountain stage at l’Avenir. The profile featured a couple of small hills before two category 1 climbs one right after the other at the finish. This was a day for our climber, Talansky. I have always fancied myself as a Fabian Cancellara-type rider who can lead his team leader into the big climbs at a very high speed, and so I was hoping to do that on this day.
Fortunately at the start it was not raining, just a bit damp. I was a bit disorganized after the night before but was ready to race. The day started off with some crazy crosswinds so the team did their best to help out Talansky and keep him protected. When the break went, we established our spot behind the Brits, who were keeping tempo in the group. The kilometres ticked down until the base of the first climb and as we got close, I got very excited to do some work.
About 5km out I took the front with Howes and Boswell and we ramped the pace up. I pulled my heart out until it started to go uphill and then faded back while I watched Howes giving his last pull, tearing the bunch to shreds with Butler and Talansky right on his wheel. That was satisfaction enough for me and I felt it was a job well done. Over the next few climbs I rolled easy in a small group of about 10, saving up energy for the next day. Talansky wound up 3rd on the mountain top finish, a solid result we all felt proud to have been a part of. I further solidified my spot as lanterne rouge, which in the Tour is actually somewhat of a prestigious award. Or at least it used to be... I find that Americans don't quite grasp the concept as well as the Europeans, but I was proud of my position. Still being in the race after my crash was enough for me.
On paper, stage 4 looked relatively simple. Go up for a while, not too steep, then go down, then go a lot higher up but still not too steep, then descend to the finish. Easy enough. Not. This stage was absolutely miserable for me. I'm not sure if I was feeling terrible from the crash or just in a bad place mentally, but I was constantly yo-yoing off the back even early on. The climbs were much harder than I had expected and to make things worse, the roads were wet. Any time the road dipped down, and was wet, I was slipping back. I have always considered descending and wet riding as some of my specialties but after my last two big crashes I was timid. It was one of those days where nothing felt right. Uphill hurt my legs, downhill made me scared out of my mind and incredibly uncomfortable. There was no flat.
As the stage went on, my mental state went from bad to worse. I just couldn't push myself any further and 3 hours in, I dropped off the back for a final time. Sometimes you have those days. It sucks but it is very prevalent in bike racing. I had an awful day and will remember it as one of my worst for races to come. Fortunately I got in a small gruppetto and we rode steady to the finish. When I crossed the line I swore my race was over.
This stage started straight uphill, one of my least favourite ways of starting a bike race. I woke up sure that I was going to drop out, but someone once told me never to make a decision before breakfast, and so after I had some granola and croissants in my belly I thought about my options. I even texted my Dad who basically told me to be a man, but I knew that was coming.
The whole morning I just went with the flow, ended up getting dressed and getting ready for the stage. 'Ahh, if I get dropped early on it'll be OK I'll just hop in the car,' I thought. Well, it turns out my mind can play tricks on me. I stayed up in the field on the first climb, got dropped on the second one but joined up with a 50-man group and rolled to the finish. A good friend from the Netherlands team, Coen Vermeltfoort, told me that once you step off your bike and quit, the first thing you will want to do is get back on and keep going. So why spend the energy stopping? I kept that in mind and the group rolled easy to the finish. I had survived. My mind was coming around...the thought of me actually finishing the race was starting to grow into a reality. But the next day was the queen stage, 204km. Surely, doing that wouldn't be a good idea. Right?
Just like Stage 5, I wasn't planning on starting stage 6 when I woke up. The race was very long (204km) and I had bigger objectives. Pat Jonker our director gave me the green light to quit at the feedzone after 58km. I would just have to make it over two big climbs first. Easy enough, even if I get dropped I'll just roll to the feed, hop off and drive to the finish. In the team meeting, Pat made it clear that I wouldn't be in the peloton at the finish, even though the lead up to Risoul, the finishing climb, would have been a perfect opportunity for me to wreak havoc on the field and help Talansky with his GC goals. I remember thinking in the meeting... 'Damn, I really wish I could be there. I just can't, I just can't make it there. I can't, I know I can't.'
But I did. I made it over the first climb off the back but chased back on. I made it over the second climb and didn't stop, remembering what Coen had told me. The whole day I set goals to reach and then exceeded them, surprising not only myself but my teammates who were getting excited that I was still up there. At breakfast I had one croissant with nutella because I was only going to be riding 58km. After 58km I said to myself, just go to the feed zone at 120km, then hop off. At the feed zone I grabbed two musette bags to fuel up and kept on going, staying in the pack looking after the boys.
The thought started to occur to me that I hadn't come all this way, crashed and barely finished, had one of the worst days on the bike and continued, just to drop out when I was finally feeling good again. My mind started to work in my favour again and I started to get the right picture. 'You came to win this race for Talansky, you came to tear this field apart at the base of climbs. You came here to prove to yourself you can race for 8 days in a row without getting too tired. You came here to train for nationals and Worlds. Who cares if you are almost last on GC, you are here for your teammates, your country and for you.'
I started to realize that I could be that weapon at the base of the climb for Talansky that I had so wished I could be the night before. I had made it through the worst of the stage and now just had to wait and sit in before I could get to the front and tear it up. As the kilometres ticked down to the base of the climb, Belgium was doing a lot of work on the front for their team leader and yellow jersey Yannick Eijssen. Ben King went to give them a hand so Team USA could line up on the front and not have to scramble for position.
Originally, the boys had thought that the run-in to the climb was a simple valley highway but we turned off it and hit a small road that stair stepped up for a couple kilometres. Ben and the Belgians were giving it good pace and the peloton was lining up behind us. I was waiting patiently behind Talansky for my turn at the front. With about 8km to the base of the finishing climb and just at the crest of our little side climb, I hit the front and rolled with Michael Kwiatkowski from Poland and another Belgian rider. We ripped over the top and barrelled down the descent, my descending skills finally returning to me.
When we popped out onto the main road it was a long tailwind drag uphill. A perfect opportunity for me to line the field up and give everything I had. I proceeded to absolutely bury myself as I held about 60 kph. Alex Howes rolled to the front briefly to give me a breather and then I punched it with anything that was left. Once the road started to go uphill, I swung off, legs and lungs on fire. Alex Howes took the reins and as I pulled off I looked back to see the state of the peloton. A huge smile spread across my face as I saw the damage. Only about 30 riders were left of about 100. Behind us was just empty road, I couldn't see anyone. What a feeling. I thought to myself: 'My race is over, I can quit now. I'll see my Mom at the base of the climb and I'll just hop in her car and quit. No big deal.'
But I didn't see my Mom, and I didn't stop at the base of the climb. I had a 28 on my back cog so I just spun easy up the mountain. For the 4th time in one day, I didn't quit when I thought I would. Ian Boswell rolled up to me on the climb and Howes had been waiting for us in some bushes so we kept an easy pace all the way to the line telling stories, basking in the fact that Avenir was almost over.
Howes had done a massive pull as well after I swung off and Talansky got second on the stage and was only 55 seconds back on the yellow jersey. We had all made it, and Talansky pulled through big time so Team USA was happy that night at dinner.
Time trials are my thing. Hill climb time trials? Not so much. To end Avenir, the organizers had us set to time trial up to Risoul, the finishing climb from the day before. I was second off because I was second to last and kept my power steady just to get a good gauge for a longer 40 minute effort. The numbers were good and it was relieving to cross the finish line... I hopped in the shower and then went back down to the finish to cheer on Talansky. The team did incredible work for him all week and he pulled through with a fabulous time good enough for 2nd on the stage and a 2nd place overall. I had to leave just as the race was finishing, so I couldn't celebrate with the boys but we'll have ample opportunity in Melbourne at the World Champs in a couple weeks.
I learned a lot about myself this week at Avenir. I completed my goal of winning the prologue and I surprised myself with my ability to hang tough when things weren't going so well. As I fly back stateside to Greenville for the Elite Nationals, I very fondly think back on this race, and am very happy with not only my ability to push through but the way the team rode and the way USA Cycling is coming up the ranks as one of the best cycling nations in terms of development. Pat Jonker, our new director for this year couldn't have been any better. He is one of the greatest guys to work for and a true legend in the sport. I apologize if this is a long article, but it was a long race... Hope you enjoyed it and stay tuned. I have two races left on my calendar now: the U23 world championships TT and Road Race.
- Taylor Phinney
December 31, 2009, 15:01 GMT,
December 31, 2009, 15:40 GMT
Track World Champ takes questions from his Twitter followers
Instead of writing a fully fledged blog, I decided to take questions from my followers on Twitter. Here’s what they asked me and my answers!
@cyclegirlpdc: Where do you see yourself in 15 years, what do you hope to have won and achieved, would you like to have a family by then?
Taylor Phinney: In 15 years, I will be 34-years-old. I will be on the tail end of my cycling career, having had a very successful one at that. I will have a gorgeous, smart, and athletic wife with a couple young kiddies running around (dream big?). All of my children will be healthy and know that they are loved. I will have houses in various parts of the world, and my main focus will be raising my children right, and preparing them for the world.
@ckasper1: What sort of pre-race rituals do you go through?
TP: I have a playlist on my iPod called "Killtime". This is an eight-song playlist that I listen to before every race that gets me into the mental state of, well… "It’s killing time!" Competition is war, and I go into it as fierce as I would if I were actually going to battle, except I dance a little bit. I don’t think that is a true warrior trait, but like I say… Why not? My mind is focused on slaying the other riders, and my body is getting loose. What better way to stay loose is there than to shake what your momma gave you?
@kyleb411: Do you prefer light beer or regular beer?
TP: I am under the age of 21 so I have never consumed this beverage you call "beer".
@puddlewatcher: How has playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 on your Xbox 360 helped your cycling?
TP: Well Mr. Watcher, that is a very good question. I would like to start by saying that I have spent over 12 hours of my life playing this game, and I can say that my reaction time has improved greatly, especially when I am in close contact with the enemy. When a 12-year-old who is much better than me, runs into the room I am camping out in, all I must do is click the right stick to eliminate him and improve my score. At the beginning of my playing career, I was very slow, but now I am quite fast. How does this relate to cycling? Well, when I was riding my bike with Taylor Swift the other day, an enemy quickly approached us from the right and I was able to swiftly take him out with my invisible knife. Wait. I think that was a dream… Oops.
@KUjaydreamin: How does the recent IOC decision to not include the pursuit change your career plans between now and 2012?
TP: Obviously, the removal of the individual pursuit was a huge blow not only to my mind frame, but also to my career path. While it would be easy to dwell on what could have come out of the Olympics in 2012 had the pursuit stayed in, I must look forward to what I can do in order to still win that gold medal I yearn for. I am still aiming for London 2012, whether it is for the omnium on the track, or the individual time trial, only time can tell. I still plan on turning professional in either 2011 or 2012, and winning as many races as I can.
@chicrunner: What do you look for in a girl?
TP: What do I "look" for? Women are not objects chicrunner, a man must look past a woman’s appearance! Duh…A girl has to make me laugh! Bottom line.
@bikecamp (my mother): How wonderful is your mother?
TP: On a scale of 1-10… About a 12.7 or so.
@chanceb737: What is you average training week like?
TP: My average training week during the season consists of about 18 hours of riding. Efforts vary from day-to-day. I like to simulate a two "on", one "off" schedule day-by-day.
@loopybunny: How was training camp?
TP: Training camp was a LOT of fun. I don’t think there is a team out there that laughs as much as we do while sitting down for meals. Even after a hard ride, we somehow end up in stitches laughing so hard while trying to eat our recovery meal. The guys are all great, the staff are great, I couldn’t ask for more! The training at the camp itself wasn’t anything too strenuous. Having a camp in the middle of December, not a lot of people need to train very hard. The purpose of the camp was more focused towards media and team bonding. Our next camp is in Solvang in a couple weeks, and we’ll be doing a lot more training there.
@shannanegans13: Does my butt look big in my background picture?
TP: I mean… I can’t really see it very well. But hey, it looks fine to me! You gotta shake what your momma gave you!
@creedmonster: How about some insight on diet info?
TP: Speaking of big butts! I kid, I kid… When it comes to diet, I eat healthy, but I also don’t restrain myself if I’m out for dinner and I REALLY want a hamburger. I am convinced that I am too young to diet, and honestly, I don’t know if I could handle extreme dieting very well mentally. I eat what I want, but have been brought up to know what I should and shouldn’t be putting in my body. I can tell you that I love salads with a fiery passion. And I’m being completely serious. Eat what makes you feel good.
@herothedog: How do you train in the cold weather? I have trouble getting out if it is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
TP: You just have to wake up, put your warm clothes on and commit! Find a buddy, climb a bit to get warm, then just man up on the way down. I can only do cold weather training for a couple weeks before I crack. Winter is definitely a difficult season for a cyclist, but just go out everyday thinking about everyone else who is staying home. You’re gonna kill them in March.
That is all for this edition of my Cyclingnews blog. Thanks to my tweeters for the questions!
Until next time
Follow me on Twitter! twitter.com/taylorphinney
Check out my broadcasts on Ustream ustream.tv/taylorphinney
- Taylor Phinney
November 11, 2009, 10:31 GMT,
November 11, 2009, 11:45 GMT
Taylor Phinney goes under the knife but finds time to put together a Halloween photo album
After a long season and an operation, this month has been all about recovery. With my health coming back slowly, I am looking forward to a great off-season, and an even better 2010 racing season. For this month I decided to mix things up a little bit and instead of giving you my usual blog I've created a photo album.
The following pictures, or as I like to call them, works of art, are somewhat of a photo album of my Tonsillechtomy and the Halloween contest I held while bed-ridden. Contest? What contest? Well, while recovering in bed I asked my Twitter followers to send in pictures of themselves in their Halloween costumes. These are some of the highlights.
Enjoy and thanks to everyone who sent me a get well message.
- Taylor Phinney
October 12, 2009, 10:20 BST,
October 12, 2009, 11:22 BST
A roller coaster ride season
2009 will be remembered as one giant roller coaster ride and a whole series of rebounds. Some incredible high points and some really devastating lows. I've had some really tough luck, crashes, a lot of illness and most recently – some really bad news from the UCI Track Commission who are threatening to destroy endurance track cycling. Here's the story.
I won the Pursuit World Championships on the track in March and set a couple of American records in the Kilo event and the Pursuit. I won some races in Europe as an Under-23, and claimed my season goal, the Under-23 Paris-Roubaix. But as I'm finding out, all that goes up, must come down. The early season racing had taken its toll; I had already broken two helmets in two painful crashes, gotten sick with severe colds several times, and raced more race days than the last three years combined. All of that, in the span of only five months.
When I returned to Boulder in the end of June just before my 19th birthday, I was coming off a peak, and heading into a couple weeks of rest. Timing your fitness is a very important part of cycling, but also incredibly difficult. So naturally, coming back from Europe on peak fitness, I didn't want to – I couldn't bear to - let go of it. Many cyclists will tell you, that this is not a situation you want to get yourself in, because that fitness, while it may stay for a couple more weeks – can't last and soon, very soon – it will betray you by leaving you.
Picture this: home from Europe, with no races for a couple weeks, and a scheduled rest period with time on my hands. So what did I do? I tried to do everything at once. I spent time with my Boulder High School friends who were home from college. I tried to keep training and hold my fitness. And I didn't get the sleep that is so valuable to my health. Feeling invincible, I basically ran myself into the ground. As I write this to you, two and a half months later, I am finally peaking out of this hole that I dug for myself. Classic.
So where have I been? In July, a couple days after coming back from Europe, and trying to balance all my social and training needs, I inevitably got sick. Another virus that I couldn't quite shake and once again, I was on and off the couch for a few weeks, while trying to train a bit for the Cascade Classic in Utah. In Cascade I made it through 3 days before I had the worst crash of my career. It happened so quickly and so violently, that I thankfully can't remember any of it.
One severe concussion and several bits of road rash – and a night in the hospital - later I was back home. Still - with a stuffy nose from the virus, I was required to stay off the bike for two weeks in order to make sure I didn't hit my head again. Two weeks passed pretty quickly and I was back at it. I was still hoping to do the Tour de l'Avenir with the National Team and the U-23 Worlds time trial, especially after a sit-down in Colorado Springs with USA Cycling director Jim Miller and National Coach Noel DeJonckeere. I was excited at the possibility of representing the US of A at Worlds and needed a goal.
But I was still plagued by a stuffy nose. Something wasn't quite right, but I thought time would pass and I had to feel better, right? I started to train again, doing long rides on the dirt roads in the mountains above Boulder and packed in a couple of 18-20 hour weeks – something I hadn't done much of since Michael Barry left town. Exploring those roads and trails is part of what makes riding so fun around Boulder. I felt strong, and I had lost more than ten pounds since I got sick in early July. But, yet again, my body just wasn't ready. I raced a small race in Boulder called the Koppenburg Classic. While I felt good and managed a solid position, the next days I felt my immune system crumble. Again, I got sick, and it was worse than the last couple of times. My World Championship dreams were shot, but hey, by then I was pretty much used to it.
It was really time – or way past time? - to do something about this. My parents, coaches and team manager all agreed. Health first. All racing plans were put on hold and we searched out some help from doctors we knew to find out what was going on in my system. Chiropractors thought my sickness was due to stiffness in my neck from the crash I had in July at Cascade. My acupuncturist thought I had a severe virus. One Chiropractor thought I had a parasite. It wasn't until an Ear Nose and Throat doc in Boulder stuck a camera on a flexible wire (yeah, fun!) up my nose and down my throat, that we found out what the deal was. The adenoid was swollen so large it was like a plug at the top of the nose. The little snake-like camera probe could barely get around it. It was a snotty mess, a trap for virus & bacteria. A CT scan and MRI revealed more.
When the going gets tough, my parents like to rely on Max Testa. He was my dad's team doc back in the 7-Eleven day and he works now for BMC. So in a flash, I was on I-80 and on the road to Utah to see Max. Through his current Team BMC hook-ups, we managed to get in with Dr. Scott Major (another BMC doc who happens to be an ear nose and throat specialist or ENT in Ogden) . Dr. Major was willing to see me right after he finished his BMC duties at Tour of Missouri. He's a cyclist himself and likes working with cyclists, this was a big plus for me.
Finally emerging from that deep whole in the middle of September, I drove back from Utah minus that golf-ball size adenoid -- with a very sore throat and a lot of ibuprofen in my system. I achieved my goals in '09 early but I also lost weeks, if not months to illness and injury. It is time for me to recover and look forward - not back. I still had one more goal and that was to go to Track Nationals. I knew I would not be on form, but I wanted to be there to contest. Trek-Livestrong won the Team Pursuit, I won the Pursuit and the Points Race.
But all of that happened under the new cloud looming over my future. Out of the blue – like a bolt of lightening - came the news that the UCI track commission voted to eliminate the Olympic endurance track events, including the Madison, the Points race and the Pursuit. Their reasoning is gender equity (all but the Madison feature women's events) and marketing (ie, make it sexier). What? They've effectively made track cycling a sprinter's domain and excluded the great road riders – like Mark Cavendish – from performing on the Olympic Oval.
The pursuit is the purist of the pure in terms of time trials in cycling. No gears to change, no brakes to hit, just you and the lap counter. The new crop of upcoming riders includes guys who have all ridden fast enough to have medaled in Beijing. I was looking forward and I had made a road map to get me to London 2012. I had sponsors, USA Cycling and my team boss Lance Armstrong backing me in my mission. And now - what? The track was a stepping stone for me to the road – but I was enjoying the purity and the simplicity and it gave me opportunities very early in my pro career.
I'm hoping for divine intervention to keep my event in the Games and to honour those who have gone before me. Wiggins, Boardman, Hegg. I wanted to be added to that list. The International Olympic Committee will convene in December to decide the fate of endurance track cycling. I hope the fates are on the side of purity over show and power over beauty. But if not, I'll refocus and rebound. If nothing else, I've learned a lot about rebounds this year.
- Taylor Phinney
August 06, 2009, 9:23 BST,
August 06, 2009, 10:57 BST
After a phenomenal start to the season the American high-flyer is back to earth with a bump. Can he salvage his season?
Cycling can be the most beautiful sport in the world, but at the same time, so very frustrating. The constant highs and lows are enough to drive a normal man crazy! I know we have to get used to it though, as it is my chosen way of life. The highs and lows are routine in every season. Unfortunately for me – because I am still new at this and still learning the basics – I never feel ready for the low points.
My season has been great. I couldn’t have hoped for better support from my Trek-Livestrong team and the US National team. I’ve gotten in more race days this season than the past two years combined. And best of all, I’ve been winning. I didn’t expect that the wins would come this quickly. In fact, I thought because it’s my first year in Europe as an Under 23 rider, I would just get destroyed in every race I took part in. The season officially kicked off with my win in the Individual Pursuit at the World Track Championships in March. I knew I had that potential in me and I proved a lot to myself that day.
From Warsaw (where the track worlds were held) I went straight to Belgium where I raced with the National Team and gained some valuable experience. Even more surprising was that I was up there with the best of them, fighting for the top spots. I took this as a very good sign for maybe next year, but could never have predicted what was still to come in my spring campaign.
I returned to the US for a couple weeks in May, and raced the Tour of Gila with Lance and Co. where I suffered a bad crash on the last day. I didn’t let it jar me too much and I was back at it preparing for my European debut with the new Trek-Livestrong team. Our first race was a stage race in Luxembourg called Fleche Du Sud, then after that was the Under 23 Paris-Roubaix—the most important race on my road calendar.
We – the Trek Livestrong Team - started out with a bang. I won the 4 km prologue at Fleche Du Sud and we held the jersey for a couple days. That was great. Not only did we prove to our competitors that we meant business, we also proved a lot to ourselves. Unfortunately I suffered another nasty crash in Fleche Du Sud in the last kilometers of a stage, losing valuable time and the young rider’s jersey. That was my first high to low experience of the 2009 season. You just have to accept that you can’t control everything - c’est la vie.
I bounced back strongly, a lot stronger than expected, and won Paris-Roubaix. While this came as a surprise to me, at the end when it was down to just eleven guys, I knew I was going to win. That killer instinct kicked in, separating me from my competitors. It was personally the most beautiful moment in my short career, and truly one of the most beautiful moments of my life.
When it was all over I just wanted to go home. I wanted to see my family and hang out with my Trek-Livestrong boys who I didn’t see after the race as we parted ways quickly. I went to doping control and they went to Eddy Merckx’s house for dinner. After doping control, I went back to the USA Team house to join the National Team. But the house in Izegem was basically empty and for a couple days I was very let down. Three long weeks of racing lay in front of me and most of it in the mountains, which so far have proven to be my biggest weakness. I was also getting a cold. Again, I went from a great high to another low.
I pushed through it, because I knew I had to. My parents counseled me to take it one day at a time. No rash decisions. I bought a lounge chair for my room in the USA house so I could kick back. I knew that if I just went home, I’d miss out on good racing experience that I desperately needed to improve and mature.
I also had no idea how good my fitness was until the races came. The first race was a weeklong stage race in Germany called Thuringen Rundfahrt. The profiles of the stages looked daunting and I downplayed my chances, but when the time came, my fitness showed and I proved a lot to myself on the climbs. I made it over the top with the best 20 guys of the peloton. A pleasant surprise. I lacked that killer instinct at the end though, which was mainly due to the fact that I didn’t truly believe I could be up there when I was. Belief in yourself is everything, and I’ve since then learned from that. I would’ve finished the race in the top 10, but suffered a mechanical at a very bad time on the second to last stage. Again, c’est la vie.
My next race was a three-day race in the Alps; Tour des Pays de Savoie. We raced up very famous Tour climbs like the Col de la Madeleine and Col de la Croix de Fer. In all honesty, that race and those passes kicked my butt, but I survived to develop more needed self-confidence in the mountains. I helped teammate Tejay Van Garderen to second place overall, which I was very proud of. I also managed to see my family who drove up from Italy to watch me race. All in all, I was finally getting the hang of what it means to be a professional cyclist, and was accepting it.
I made it back to Boulder at the end of June and celebrated my 19th birthday in earnest with long time friends. I didn’t take as much time off as I had planned. I had no racing scheduled for early July and planned to take it very easy but I got sidetracked. I did too much. In the future, now I know that coming off of great form definitely takes it out of your body, but I was oblivious. When I started really training again nothing was working, my power was super low, my blood values were a lot lower than normal (blood test taken as part of the UCI medical monitoring program), and I just felt like crap. I got sick, lost about ten pounds (which in cycling could be looked at as a good thing), and was put out of the game for longer than I would’ve liked to have been.
The low was about to get lower. I hadn’t even seen the bottom yet. I started feeling better in time for the Cascade Cycling Classic in Bend, Oregon. I knew I wasn’t that fit, or mentally prepared to be racing but I thought it would be good training as I geared up for the end of the season. The first three days of the race were basically ok – not great but not horrible.
Then, on the fourth day, I suffered probably the worst crash of my career. I say probably because I can’t remember anything; nothing from the race, or the crash, and nothing from the 2-3 hours that followed. Memories only started forming while I was in the ER getting checked by a Neurologist, who said I had a ‘severe’ concussion (technically a grade 3 due to memory loss). I had to stay the night, with an IV in my arm, trying to recall what happened.
So here I am, almost two weeks later. I cannot ride until I am 100% better and will probably get on the trainer soon to test myself. The end of my season feels like its in jeopardy, and I am really not sure what happens now! So, I am just taking it day by day.
My good friend Allen Lim once told me: “Cycling is 99 per cent suffering and 1 per cent magic.” Fortunately for me, that 99 per cent is all worth it when the 1 cent comes rolling around.
- Taylor Phinney
May 27, 2009, 15:47 BST,
June 05, 2009, 22:53 BST
This month Phinney experiences the highs and lows of European stage racing
We all come tumbling off of our high horse eventually. This seems to be a common trend not only in cycling, but in any other professional sport. Take two steps forward, and sooner or later you'll step back. As we scale the mountain of life - particularly in sport - crashing is inevitable. Especially in cycling.
Our Trek-Livestrong team arrived in Europe on Sunday, May 17, ready to begin our first European campaign as a team. We had a couple of days to get adjusted and situated before our first race - the UCI Cat. 2.2 Flèche du Sud in Luxembourg. Flèche du Sud has seen some very strong riders atop the podium including Andy Schleck, Kim Kirchen, and Bradley Wiggins.
I'll start with the prologue.
I was especially excited because the prologue was only 4.2 kilometers and very technical with many sharp turns. Knowing that no one in the world can beat me at a distance like that, I was very confident in not only my performance, but in the whole team. It also might've helped that I have been doing cornering clinics at my parents' bike camps since as long as I can remember.
I prepared for the prologue as if it were an individual pursuit. That is, after all, what I have proved to be best at. I studied the course many times in training both with the team and by myself until it was second nature. I knew that winning was the only option - it is what was expected of me by others and what I expected from myself. The distance was perfect, the course was perfect, my legs were fine. I had to win... Anything else would be a big disappointment.
It all happened very fast, and it hurt. My legs were screaming but I knew I had nailed it. The corners had gone perfectly - ok, I hit a couple of curbs because I was going fast, but my accelerations and shifting were right on schedule. It was beautiful.
I had the added advantage of starting late - 5th to last - and crossed the finish line three seconds under the best time. I knew I had it. The team knew I had it. Axel knew I had it.
Beautiful. There's nothing quite like winning a bike race. My teammate Ben King put it on YouTube if you want to see it yourself.
I ran to get my podium clothes on, signed my anti-doping waiver and then sprinted to the podium just in time for the ceremony. In our first race in Europe, Trek-Livestrong did not disappoint. We won and we had the leader's jersey. (Funny side note: the organizers only ordered size small leader's jerseys. I am almost 2 meters tall - I can fit into a medium but am normally...large!) Now the real work starts, I thought to myself.
I don't get very nervous. I didn't get nervous before my pursuits at Worlds, I wasn't even that nervous the night before the Olympics. But being in the leader's jersey at a big race like Fleche Du Sud? It scared the crap out of me. This was new territory.
My Trek-Livestrong team, consisting of Bjorn Selander, Ben King, Guy East, Jesse Sergent, and Sam Bewley (in no particular order), were ready and rode supremely to defend our jersey - the leader's jersey on my back. All I had to do was sit in and conserve energy over the climbs. In the final local laps it started to rain heavily and it got a bit sketchy, but when it is sketchy, I will always be up there.
Since the team worked so hard I definitely felt some pressure on my shoulders to deliver in the sprint and managed perfect position with about 500 meters to go, right behind the German, two-time Junior World Champion Marcel Kittel. His jump was just too strong for me in the end and I only managed third, but I was satisfied. More importantly, the team was happy. We lived to defend the leader's jersey for another day, just as we had hoped and planned.
Stage two was the "queen stage" of the tour (it means the most difficult) and had four or five 1-3km climbs before a very hilly circuit. Again, the team controlled the race beautifully and I was able to sit on. I was so proud of my guys the whole day. They rode at the front like seasoned pros and the field was taking notice. I got many compliments from other riders on our professionalism.
As we neared the circuits the race got HARD. It was splitting up everywhere and we could no longer control the bunch. As the laps counted down a break managed to get away and stay away even though a couple of the sprinters' teams were pulling pretty hard at the front. When it came down to the end, the break had over a minute, resulting in the loss of our jersey. We felt like we did everything we could have - and realized that one team can't keep tabs on the whole race - although we did try.
Stage three was another hilly one but not quite as hard as the day before. Although I lost about five places on general classification to the breakaway of the day before, I was still in the young rider's jersey and planned on keeping that for the rest of the tour.
The final circuits proved hard with a 2 km climb every lap but I felt strong. We were scheduled for four laps up the hill and I was safely in the bunch leading up to the climb on the last lap. Suddenly, everything got tight and somebody unexpectedly and erratically jerked to the right. I've never gone down so fast. One second I was up, the next, I was rolling on the ground. A couple riders rolled over me.
When I got up I realized that my front wheel was done for and I had to get it changed, losing precious time. I got back going but I knew it was too late. I gave everything up the climb, but never saw the pack again. I was crushed. Tucking on the descent, I found myself half sobbing, half cursing at the world.
"Why do I do this?" I thought to myself...All that work. The prologue. The team defending the jersey. Every ounce of energy I had spent to keep my GC hopes alive vanished. In a second. Cycling is brutally unforgiving sometimes and all I could do at that moment was wonder, why me?
Teammate Guy East waited for me and paced me to the line. As we crossed I kept going past the team cars and the riders. I sat alone on a desolate side street for 10 minutes by myself. I needed that time to get the pity party over with, and to 'man up' as my Kiwi teammate Sam Bewley would say. The crash cost me two minutes and my young riders jersey, but I sucked it up, picked myself up, accepted the consequences and went back to the hotel to recover for the next day.
Luckily for us, the last stage proved to be a pretty easy one until a steep 1 km climb with 10 km to go. I got gapped, but made it back, taking the corners of the descent maybe just a wee bit too fast for comfort. A top 10 on the stage and I was content. Flèche du Sud was in the record books. Team Trek-Livestrong couldn't have had a better start...in the prologue, but it all went downhill from there. C'est la vie.
Or should I say, "that is bike racing for ya."
We have the U23 Paris-Roubaix this Sunday, May 31.
It might be more suited to me - and we can't wait!
- Taylor Phinney
Follow Taylor with this exclusive Cyclingnews diary as he immerses himself in the international road racing scene.
18-year-old Taylor Phinney is one of the sport's most promising talents and will begin his professional career in 2009 with the Trek-Livestrong team under the guidance of directeur sportif Axel Merckx.
The son of Davis Phinney, twice a Tour de France stage winner, and Olympic gold medallist Connie Carpenter-Phinney, Taylor took to the bike in his teens and quickly found success. In his first three years of racing he picked up two Junior World Championships and four US titles and then went on to represent the United States at the Olympics in Beijing.