When a rider takes a Tour stage win, his team-mates usually find out over race radio from their team manager. Occasionally, they might hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, or even be greeted by a smiling soigneur on the finish line, bearing the good news.
But there’s not much usual about Taylor Phinney. He’s tall, dry, uninhibited and more chilled out than a Buddhist monk in an igloo. True to form, he learned of Rigoberto Uran’s memorable stage 9 win in Chambéry from a peculiar source.
Near the top of the day’s middle hors catégorie climb, the Grand Colombier, Phinney jettisoned anything weighing him down. That included palming off his radio to the waiting team communication officer, Matt Beaudin.
He rode on in the gruppetto over the last climb, 35 minutes behind his Colombian capitano.
“As I went over the top of Mont du Chat – Cat Mountain – this old Frenchman somehow or other whispered into my ear… ‘Rigoberto won,’” Phinney says.
“And it wasn’t like I could turn around and ask him what was going on. I was also unsure whether I was conscious enough at that moment. You know: five hours into a stage with 4,500 metres of climbing, I was a little bit confused as to whether I might be hallucinating.
“But I just took it as a little sign from an old Frenchman. And sure enough, when I got to the finish line, he was right. That [victory] was huge for us as a team.”
It was Cannondale-Drapac’s first Tour de France stage win since 2014 and what’s more, the lottery of race hotels came up trumps with a 16th century chateau in Bergerac that evening. They celebrated with burritos and champagne.
“We really couldn’t have asked for more out of the Tour de France than what we’ve got so far. That’s a nice feeling to have,” Phinney tells me over the phone during the first rest day.
It was no less than they deserved. The American squad has been regular breakaway animators and Phinney was the one who kicked it off. The 27-year-old, making his debut, got up the road in the first kilometre of the opening road stage between Düsseldorf and Liège. He went on to clinch the polka-dot jersey.
“It was pretty surreal. It definitely feels like a long time ago,” Phinney says. “It’s a happy memory. I’m more than excited about how that day went, especially as we had a very straightforward little plan formulated: get those first mountain points on that first day. But you know how this world is. You get your day in the sun and the next day, you go back to being in the bunch.
“I’m happy to be the guy that wanted it and made it happen. And that really started an upward trajectory, I think, for the whole squad, with Nate Brown (below) taking it over and wearing it for a couple of days and now capping off the first week with a stage win.”
Nevertheless, aware the race is not even at the halfway point, Phinney also acknowledges how difficult the experience has been.
“The Tour has been unlike anything I’ve ever done before. The stages over the weekend [stages 8 and 9, to Station des Rousses and Chambéry respectively] were super hard but I never felt like I was not going to be able to make it through. That was a small concern in the back of my mind, having not done a Grand Tour in five years [since the 2013 Giro d’Italia]. But I feel pretty good.”
Phinney did not race for 14 months after crashing in the 2014 US national road race championship, fracturing a tibia and fibula and severing his patella tendon.
Asked for his impressions on the race, debutant Phinney says he hasn’t started processing it all properly yet. “I’m looking at places where I’m gonna need to dig up some strength to survive, and then I’m also looking after Rigoberto [in the GC] … I’m just deep in the trenches without a whole lot of time for introspection.
“Once, hopefully, everything goes well, I think a strong moment of appreciation and gratification will be going into Paris. I’ll be able to start to process a little bit from there.”
Cannondale-Drapac already have a valuable stage win and Phinney has had one day in the sun. Why can’t the popular, quirky American have another before the race hits the Champs-Elysées?
“I’ll keep dreaming. That’s the only way to make it happen,” he says in his laidback drawl.
The post Taylor Phinney’s Tour de France: Daydream Believer appeared first on The world's finest cycling magazine.