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by Shane Stokes
June 15, 2015
Photography by Cor Vos
Currently still working on his recovery and trying to get back to the level of fitness that will enable him to return to racing, Taylor Phinney has drawn on a couple of non-sporting areas in his time away from competition.
One of those is painting, a passion he picked up from his mother, the Olympic gold medallist Connie Carpenter Phinney (see lululemon video below).
The second is flying, something he has done plenty of in the many months since he crashed hard and sustained leg fractures in May 2014.
The latter has helped the young American greatly during what has been a frustrating time for him, giving him a different focus since his crash.
“For me, it was more the case that I had to consider what my life would be like if I wasn’t able to ride my bike again,” Phinney told CyclingTips recently. “So I wanted to try to find something that I was inspired by as much as racing a bike.
“Flying a plane is for me a huge rush. There is a lot that goes into it. It is very similar to riding a bike, actually, but just on a much larger, more grandiose scale.
“And then there are a lot of correlations between plotting your route, understanding maps, understanding landmarks and being able to figure locations out…that too is very similar to riding a bike. It’s something I long liked about training – looking at local maps, checking out new roads, exploring. There are similarities with flying.”
Phinney’s crash occurred on May 26 2014 while competing in the USA Cycling professional road championships in Chattanooga. He had won the time trial two days earlier and was trying to double up on that success, but crashed on the descent of Lookout Mountain when a race motorbike got in his way.
He hit a guardrail and suffered injuries which, over a year later, still raise a question mark over when he will be able to return.
Speaking to CyclingTips in the months after his accident, Phinney said then that he had enrolled in flight school and was working at getting his pilot’s licence. He said that the bug bit when one of his best friends from high school brought him on a flying trip from San Diego to Los Angeles.
“I was like, ‘this is super, super cool…I would love to be able to do this,’” he said, describing that initial reaction. “It is pretty exciting and a really fun, freeing outlet.”
Months later he said that he had less time for it but that he was still slotting in sessions when he had the opportunity.
“Now I am training more and doing more strengthening I don’t have so much time for it, but I am still that process,” he said. “There is some paperwork I have to fill out and I haven’t done schoolwork in probably eight years. I am struggling to sit down and complete these ten pages of questions [laughs] but you know, it is coming along.”
He has at times been overwhelmed by the thoughts of his injury and the difficult road back. Each stage of that recovery has taken a lot longer than was initially expected, but flying has helped him to live in the moment and not to overanalyse things as much as he might have.
“It is just a different form of expression,” he explained. “Kind of like playing an instrument…there are just so many things you have to think about when you are flying the plane. Like playing an instrument or learning a language, you kind of just start to get it. So that is amazing…it is always amazing what you can teach your brain.
“It is something that you would have had no idea how to do one day and then you flash forward a couple of months and all of a sudden you know how to operate a plane. If you think about it, it is kind of amazing.”
Former Giro d’Italia winner and double world champion Gianni Bugno went into flying after his career, piloting helicopters commercially and also working on bike races in that capacity.
Phinney also sees flying in his future, but hopes to have a good career on the bike first. He outlined his four big goals for the sport and, injury permitting, will aim to start knuckling down to those targets when he returns.
Longer term, the skies are the goal.
“Ideally I would have a career where I would have enough money to have some investments here and there. To make enough money to make money off of money and fly just for fun..that is the ultimate dream,” he said, laying out a best-case scenario.
“One of my buddies I train with here is a commercial pilot for American Airlines. He has a pretty cool life. He is at home a lot, then he goes away for a couple of days and flies and then comes back and has a lot of time to ride his bike.
“For sure if I was looking into another career if it came to that, then flying would definitely come into that.
“It is a lot of fun and also similar to bike riders as we are always travelling. Whether you like it or not, you are just all over the place and you get used to that.”
Also see: Taylor Phinney on enduring pain and a changed outlook on cycling and life