In three days at the Giro d'Italia, Taylor Phinney has become an absolute star in the world of cycling. After taking the pink jersey in the inaugural time trial in Herning, he made the highlights for crashing two days in a row but in both instances he showed his poise and stood uncomplaining on the race leader's podium.
In stage 2, Phinney went down with 8.3km to go but the only consequence was mechanical, and BMC Racing Team president Jim Ochowicz was forced to put his protégé's chain back on the ring. Phinney's crash in stage 3 seemed more serious for his physical integrity but he insisted to be seen on TV to send an immediate message to his friends and family that he was fine.
Sprinting in the top fifteen positions of the bunch, possibly too close to the front according to Italian experts at the race, Phinney was taken down as a consequence of the pile up on the right side of Mark Cavendish. He didn't cross the finishing line other than in ambulance but he was however classified at the last place of the stage with the same time as the winner Matt Goss.
"There was a moment of confusion," Phinney explained. "I was getting some ice on my injured ankle and I told the driver of the ambulance: please take me to the finishing line. I wanted to show to my dad and my sister who were watching TV that I was fine." The ambulance drove Phinney for one lap of the 14.6km final circuit to deliver the hero to the finishing area where he received his third pink jersey on stage, even though the award had already been symbolically presented to a kid and the crowd had been informed that the race leader was taken to hospital for examination.
"I've got a hole in my foot but I hope there's nothing serious," said the American as he was limping along. "I'm feeling better than straight after the crash. Fortunately, tomorrow is a rest day," he added prior to heading to Billund's airport and flying to Verona for Wednesday's team time trial.
He didn't appear devastated at all when he answered the questions on the post-race talk show Processo alla Tappa. He even looked like he embraced the role of being a sports star. Talking about his future as a bike rider, he downplayed expectations of him becoming a GC contender at Grand Tours. "For now, I think of Paris-Roubaix, and even at Milan-San Remo," he stated. "I weight 85kg and I'm a bit taller than the other riders." He indicated that he's aware of some limitations he might have in climbing but he admitted that the changes in the Olympic program have accelerated his career as a road rider.
He was the world champion for individual pursuit in Pruskow, Poland, in 2009 and in Ballerup, Denmark, in 2010, but that event won't be contested in the London games. "Had the individual pursuit been part of the London Olympics, I still would have been at the Giro today," Phinney noted. "The Giro is a good preparation for the pursuiters like Jack Bobridge, Geraint Thomas [who have ambitions for the team pursuit with Australia and Great-Britain]. Had I still focused on the track, I wouldn't have done Paris-Roubaix and these kind of races, but I'm happy to be a man for road racing now."
A bronze medallist for omnium at the 2010 world championship, he could have taken his chance in the new event introduced by the UCI to replace the individual pursuit, but he considered it too risky in terms of performance. Phinney is an obvious candidate to represent the USA in London in the individual time trial and possibly the road race as well.