Taylor Phinney (Cannondale-Drapac) will ride into Paris for the first time in his life today, finish his first Tour de France and so add another milestone and lots of memories to his professional career and personal life.
"I'm pretty tired, but everyone is tired. I'm stoked I made it," Phinney told Cyclingnews after finishing the Marseille time trial in 17th, the steep climb mid-way through the 22.5km course derailing any chance of a better result.
"I'm excited to be done, and now I'm waiting for the moment of going into Paris. I think it'll be a defining moment of this Tour de France for me, and the team."
Phinney and the Cannondale-Drapac team will escort Rigoberto Urán onto the Champs Elysees and protect the Colombian's second place on the final podium alongside Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale).
Phinney said that he started racing when, after visiting the Tour de France with his parents Davis and Connie, he suddenly realised what his parents had achieved in their careers and wanted to emulate his father, who won two stages at the Tour de France. Fittingly, his parents were in Marseille for the time trial and will celebrate together in Paris.
"We've had a Tour de France that is way better than expected and that we could ever dream about. To have Rigo on the podium is amazing, we're all really proud of him. We all worked really hard to make that happen and so rallied around him," Phinney said.
One of three Americans
Phinney was just one of three American riders in this year's Tour de France. All three rode with the Cannondale-Drapac team, and all three will ride into Paris. Andrew Talansky was ill during June and so was unable target the overall classification as he had hoped, while Nathan Brown, like Phinney, made his Tour de France debut and also enjoyed time in the climber's polka-dot jersey during the early stages.
Phinney pulled on the iconic jersey on stage 2 after cleverly joining the break of the day and taking the points on the first climb. He then teamed up with Yohan Offredo and fight to hold off the chasing peloton. They were only caught in the final kilometre, with Phinney hugging Offredo – who was also riding his first Tour – after the finish and saying: 'We're friends for life now, bro'."
After his moment in the spotlight, Phinney took each stage as a personal challenge, doing what he could for the team and especially to protect Urán's overall chances. He often finished in the gruppetto and suffered in the mountains but revealed he uses meditation to stay relaxed and help his recovery. He spread his karma around the Cannondale-Drapac bus.
"I've been focused on each stage as it goes by. I wanted to be stress-free about it all and just do what I could do. I think I did that," Phinney said.
Phinney is aware he may have never reached Paris as a professional rider. His career and life changed dramatically in 2014 when he crashed into the roadside barriers during the US national championship. He had to suffer through a long period of rehabilitation to return to racing. He has long, imposing scars on his left knee and shin and the whole process matured him and changed him as a person. He was close to quitting the sport last spring and opted to move from BMC Racing to Cannondale-Drapac for 2017.
Even his route to the 2017 Tour de France was strewn with problems. A slip on the steps of the team bus left him injured and then he suffered a concussion at the Tour of Flanders, and crashed at the Tour of California. He only found form by riding the Tour de Suisse – the first mountainous WorldTour stage race he had ridden in four years.
"Riding the Tour de France was one of my childhood dreams," he said. "I was unsure I was able to race a Grand Tour again after I broke my leg but I did it. Now I need time to let it all soak in so that I can enjoy it after the pain of making it through."