It was a slightly odd interview, if truth be told. We were on the roof of a hotel in downtown Chattanooga, photographer Daniel Sharp doing his thing while I scuttled around on the floor, trying to stay out of the frame, chatting away to the only pro rider I can recall meeting who towered above me.
Taylor Phinney was looking good at this point. The previous day, he had romped home in the US championships time trial. His beautifully fluid high cadence and rock-steady shoulders looked a world apart from the competition, even passing on the first of two laps – the drag away from the finish area amplifying respective styles.
A thirteen-second lead after one lap stretched to 51 seconds by the end, defending champion Tom Zirbel soundly beaten.
The 23-year-old took to Twitter soon after, revealing the design of his national champion’s skinsuit had already been manufactured, just in case. Bang goes my first question. (How is the red of BMC going to work with the red of the Stars and Stripes?)
I had the idea of swerving bike talk altogether and just shooting the breeze about whatever took our fancy. It was trickier than you’d imagine. What are you reading at the moment?
“I have been reading On The Road by Jack Kerouac. I don’t read as much as I should, or I would like. But I read Rouleur magazine religiously…”
There’s an accompanying trademark Phinney grin following this statement that suggests otherwise, so now I’m doubting the Kerouac bit. We swiftly move on to bike-related matters and both feel more comfortable with the terrain.
That new skinsuit was all ready for this weekend’s Dauphiné prologue, 10.4km through the streets of Lyon where Phinney fancied his chances. Then, hopefully, to the Tour in support of Tejay van Garderen.
This feel-good story went so badly awry the following morning. The first descent of Lookout Mountain following the opening laps in the centre of Chattanooga resulted in a high-speed crash for the newly crowned time trial champ: a swerve to avoid a motorcycle marshal, a bounce off the Armco barrier delivering broken left fibia and tibia.
Our car’s driver skillfully descended the mountain at breakneck speed, ahead of the 11-man break. We remained blissfully unaware of the drama unfolding behind until back at the finish and on solid ground once more.
This young man, less than 24 hours earlier so full of positive energy, so focused, so ready for a summer of suffering, will now experience suffering of a different kind.
Of course, it could have been much worse. Had that Armco barrier been absent, he could have sailed right over the edge into the trees. This is a tough guy’s sport: “That’s bike racing”, we trot out in meaningless platitude mode.
It just seems so much harder when you have actually been talking to the guy the day before and felt the positive vibes.
Heal well, Taylor Phinney. We look forward to seeing you back in the pack.
A full interview with Taylor Phinney will appear in issue 49 of Rouleur.