Taylor Phinney is still recovering from the injuries he suffered in a horrific crash earlier this year at the US professional championships, and he's only recently started to pedal around again in his team kit. But the BMC rider told reporters on Monday in Colorado that he's already flying – in a Cessna.
"I started to take flying lessons," Phinney said outside the BMC team bus after the stage 1 start of the USA Pro Challenge in Aspen. "I'm hoping [to have a pilot's license] by November. ... I went out to California and one of my best friends from high school is in flight school, and he just took me up in the little Cessna that he trains in."
Phinney said he enjoys the freedom of flying, and it helps fill the time now that his bike riding is limited to short, easy efforts.
"It's just a cool thing to do, and it's something that I have time for right now that I wouldn't have time for in the future," he said.
Phinney suffered serious injuries to his left leg back in June when an official on a motorcycle obstructed his line, going into a tricky corner, on a fast descent during the US professional road race championship in Chattanooga. The 24-year-old reigning US professional time trial champion said he checked his bike computer months later and determined he was going 85 kph when he crashed.
Phinney suffered a compound fracture to his tibia, a severed patella tendon and a compound fracture to his patella. He's still missing a chunk of his knee cap.
"They drilled a rod down through my tibia and I have two screws in my ankle and two screws in my knee," Phinney said of the medical procedure that doctors used to piece him back together. "I have one really long screw through my fibula into my tibia because those got separated. I didn't break my fibula. Then the tendon was just sutured. You could bend that the day after surgery. It was pretty wild."
Relaxing in a chair outside of the team bus, Phinney said his rehabilitation continues to be a long process, despite the fact that he was riding a recumbent bike within 10 days of the crash. He was able to ride with the team this week in Colorado, an experience he said was bittersweet because he had hoped to be racing there in his home state.
"I went out on the bike with the guys yesterday, and I was like, 'Did I used to be at this level,' because they were going way too fast," he said. "But it's good to be around here and be around the race. It's bittersweet.
"I wish I could be out there racing with the guys," he continued. "But it's more just the longing of being here and being able to race, being able to ride at a high watt level without any pain. But these things happen, and they are just part of the sport and they're part of life. So you learn from them. It's the same old story when you have something happen to you: If you're able to come back, you gain something from that experience."
Phinney's 2014 plan to race in his first Tour de France had to be scrapped, and he also missed out on last week's Tour of Utah. But missing a chance to race in Colorado this week in front of home crowds is especially tough.
"The stage in Boulder on Sunday, they're going to be parking the bus like right in front of my apartment downtown," he said. "So that would have been really special. These kind of stages, I love these little hilly stages up here."
He had also targeted the world championships in September, but he won't return to racing in time to compete for the rainbow jersey this year. But he'll be back next year with a similar agenda.
"Those goals will basically remain the same next year," he said. "I'll try to get on the Tour de France team. There's a better opportunity for me on the first stage of next year's Tour de France with a short time trial to even try to get a yellow jersey. That's a goal, but it's far enough from now, you know."
The BMC rider said he hopes to be back in full-on training mode in October, but for now he has to stick with the easy efforts that don't cause him any pain.
"I do like 200-250 watts, just tapping it out," he said. "I'll just kind of progressively ride more and more over the next month through September, and then come October, judge where I'm at. It's really hard to put a date on things, because so many things can either go better than expected or worse than expected."
There are, however, some benefits to his current situation, like learning how to fly and getting more chances to ride with his dad, Davis, a retired pro sprinter for 7-Eleven who earned a bronze medal in the 1984 Olympics and won two stages at the Tour de France.
"I get to ride with him every once in awhile," Phinney said. "He gets to win all the town sign sprints because I'm not allowed to accelerate."