Phinney finished third after he bridged to a group of four riders on the second of two closing circuits in Logan and eventually finished third to fellow Boulder, Colorado, residents Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare) and Alex Howes (Cannondale-Garmin).
“It’s really nice to be back,” Phinney said in the post-race press conference. “I didn’t want to come back before I was at a position where I could be competitive and try to give some people a run for their money. So I’m happy.
“It was kind of a brutal day with five hours in the wet and the cold,” he said. “I was shivering most of the time, so that took a lot of mental energy away from focusing on my knee.”
Phinney’s return after injuring his left leg more than a year ago in a nasty crash at the US pro championships caught many people off-guard, but he said earlier in the week that he wanted to keep things quiet to reduce the exterior pressure surrounding his return.
“I’ve been wanting to come back here for the last couple of months,” he said. “It was in the plans with the team. But with any recovery, it’s always up and down, and my return to racing has been more of a personal thing. I didn’t want to have too much external pressure by announcing it too early.”
Phinney’s team supported the rider, telling him he could wait to make the decision to ride Utah until just three days before the race started when the official rosters were due.
“I’ve been feeling really good the last couple of weeks and I’ve been training really a lot, and so I was excited to announce that I was going to race, but like I said, it was more of a personal thing I wanted to keep a little bit quiet and see where that takes me,” he said.
The past 14 months of recovery have taken the 24-year-old to a lot of new places, perhaps not geographically, but in his body and mind. The elite athlete had to battle with the notion that he might never again compete at a high level. In the end, however, Phinney said he was glad for the experience.
“It’s been a really interesting ride,” he said. “It’s something I’m grateful to have in my life, to have this year where I kind of stepped away from the sport and figured myself out a little bit to find out who I was without cycling.
“With any recovery there are ups and downs, and for sure there were times when I didn’t think I would race again,” he said. “I’m kind of glad that I had to think about that. At the age of 24 having to think about my life without a bike kind of put things into perspective and made me realize how lucky we are to be here, to be racing our bikes and to be healthy. So I’m excited to come back.”