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He’s been out of competition for 62 weeks as a result of a devastating crash at the 2014 US Pro championships, but Taylor Phinney showed he has worked hard and is motivated when he almost won his comeback event.
The BMC Racing Team rider was strong enough to bridge across to a four man break approximately four kilometres from the end of the opening stage of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, then opened up the gallop to the line.
However his aim of confirming his comeback with a victory unravelled as two others in the break, Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team) and Alex Howes (Cannondale-Garmin), were able to edge pass him.
“I didn’t play the sprint so well,” said Phinney, who made his move with 500 metres to go and was a sitting duck to Reijnen and Howes. “I had a little bit of a gap coming out of the last corner and just hit it. I was a bit nervous, I guess.”
The result is nevertheless a very significant one for the American rider. His crash in May 2014 lead to a bad fracture to his left leg and injuries to his left knee, and raised real questions about whether he would be able to resume his professional career.
Silence from his BMC Racing Team compounded the uncertainty for fans and media, with the squad declining to comment in recent weeks.
However the confirmation in recent days that he would be lining out in the event was the first good sign. The second was his performance in Monday’s opening stage.
He admitted that he “felt pretty terrible” during the race. However after speaking to directeur sportif Jackson Stewart, he decided to give it a shot.
“Jackson told me the time gap and I just put it together that the sprinter’s team were working really hard,” he explained. “With the wet, and also the tiny little climb on the circuit, it could be a good opportunity to go for it.
“I saw some guys attacking right before we got into town and followed some of those moves. I got a little excited.”
Phinney’s performance will motivate him for the upcoming stages and later races. Providing he can keep his momentum going and doesn’t run into any complications with his previous injuries, his return will be one of the most impressive achievements of his career.
Stewart was very upbeat in his assessment. “It was a good day – a really good day,” he said. “I know Taylor wanted to win, but we will take a podium result. It has got to be good for his morale.”
Also impressive was another BMC Racing Team rider, Peter Stetina. He suffered fractures to his right tibia, patella and five ribs when he crashed hard four months ago in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco.
Like Phinney, he was also making his comeback to racing in the event. He had a quieter day and finished two minutes 55 seconds back in 103rd place, but only drifted backwards towards the end.
He said that was more due to safety considerations than anything else.
“I sat up on the rainy finishing circuits because that is not a finish for me and I wanted to be safe,” he explained. “I think Mother Nature was really asking me if I wanted to come back and do this. She made it tough on us. Six hours of rain is no fun.
“But I was on such a high just to be on my bike that I was probably more okay with it than a lot of guys.”
Stewart was impressed, admitting the team didn’t expect him to finish. “It was incredible to see him come over that last climb. The fighting he did was incredible.”
To see a video of the stage, click here.