Daniele Badolato/Associated Press File Photo
Daniele Badolato/Associated Press File Photo
For the longest time, Taylor Phinney simply was the son of Olympic medalists Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter-Phinney of Boulder. That was his meal ticket and, in some ways, his identity.
That started to change when Phinney emerged as a track cycling prodigy a few years ago, and the full transformation finally occurred at this year’s Giro d’Italia, where one of America’s top young riders raced to victory in the opening time trial.
“Now everybody calls me ‘Taylor Phinney’s mom.’” Carpenter-Phinney said,
It is sure to be that way at the London Games, too, where the 22-year-old Phinney has been chosen to ride both the time trial and road race for the U.S. team.
It’s a big responsibility but one that seems much more plausible after Phinney’s Giro ride.
“It was thrilling that he won,” said Carpenter-Phinney, who was standing off to the side of the podium on that May day in Denmark when Phinney slipped into the coveted pink leader’s jersey.
“I had one word to describe his performance on the opening time trial, and that was ‘flawless,’” she said. “It’s not often you get that in this sport.”
Of course, it’s not often that a cyclist comes from such stout bloodlines.
Davis Phinney was part of the iconic 7-Eleven team that helped American riders break into the European peloton in the 1980s. He won two stages of the Tour de France, a national road title and was part of the bronze medal-winning time trial team at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Carpenter-Phinney competed in speedskating at the 1972 Winter Olympics, finishing seventh as a 14-year-old. Injuries prevented her from competing four years later, and she gravitated toward bike racing, winning national road, track and criterium championships in short order.
While Davis Phinney was winning bronze in Los Angeles, Carpenter-Phinney was holding off her American teammate Rebecca Twigg to win the gold medal in the women’s road race.
So it was natural that young Taylor would be riding a bike just as soon as he could walk.
“I came in as the son of Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter-Phinney, so I had all these things handed to me on a platter: a team and a bike,” the younger Phinney said. “My dad was totally different. His father was an engineer and really wanted him to go to school, to go to college, and my dad was like, `No, I want to ride my bike.’ He had to really fight and work for it.
“My dad has some amazing stories,” Phinney said. “He’s one of those natural-born story tellers. Ever since I was a little kid, he told me stories about his childhood and his growing up, whether it’s girls or bike racing or living in Europe or whatever.”
Even today, Phinney will give him a call, and they’ll launch into a long conversation.
“It’s great to have him and my mom. She does everything for me,” Phinney said. “And then my dad talks to me and talks me through things, so I’m pretty lucky.”
Still, Phinney never felt much pressure from his parents to become an elite cyclist.
The first time he even heard that his parents were Olympic medalists was when he was in first grade, and a teacher asked him about it. His parents’ medals are stuck in a box for safekeeping, not hanging prominently on a wall in their home.
“We always let our kids really try to be interested in their own thing,” Carpenter-Phinney said. “They didn’t become interested in stories until they were teenagers. You want your kids to experience their own lives and see things through their own eyes.”
Phinney nevertheless gravitated toward cycling and became something of a wunderkind on the track, where he qualified for the Beijing Olympics. He had just turned 18 that summer when he took on the world’s best in his signature event: the individual pursuit. He finished seventh.
“Last time, he just got swallowed up by the experience, and that was challenging for him,” Carpenter-Phinney said. “It was sort of like your first week in college. Not very productive, right? And there he was. He won’t have that same kind experience in London.”
That’s certainly true, because this time Phinney will be competing on the road.
The individual pursuit was scrapped during an overhaul of the track cycling program. Phinney decided to try to qualify for the road team instead of one of the other track disciplines, and he ended up getting picked for both the road race and the individual time trial.
Phinney has a magnetic personality, one that could turn him into a transcendent figure in the sometimes staid world of professional cycling.
He occasionally spills his thoughts in a humorous blog on his website (www.taylorphinney.com ). His conversations between “Fat Taylor” and “Skinny Professional Taylor” are particularly amusing. Phinney speaks fluent Italian, which endears him to the overseas crowd, and his Twitter account gives nearly 60,000 followers a unique view into the soul of an emerging, young cyclist.
“That’s profound, that serves as an amplifier for the sport,” said Steve Johnson, the chief executive of USA Cycling. “Mainstream, athletic-type kids coming into the sport, who might have in previous time be interested in some other sport, they might gravitate to cycling because of him.”
After all, he’s no longer just the son of Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter-Phinney. He is a stage winner of the Giro d’Italia, one of the most talented riders in America, a two-time Olympian with his sights set squarely on the podium at the London Games.
He’s carved out his own identity. No meal tickets needed.
“We’re super proud of him,” Carpenter-Phinney said. “His trajectory in the sport has been really huge, you know? It hasn’t all been linear. I don’t think you can just go up. There’s been some up and downs and sometimes a lot of both. For us, for Davis and me, Taylor provides us with some extreme ups and extreme downs, but we love being along for the ride.”