Taylor Phinney: Cycling needs saving
What’s the point? It’s a question that Taylor Phinney has asked a lot of himself over the past year, and it’s a theme that crops up continually as Cyclingnews catches up with the American in Catalunya, where he’s settling in to his new surroundings at the Cannondale-Drapac team.
That Phinney still finds himself in the world of professional cycling is something of a surprise, given that he was “pretty certain” he was going to pack it all in this year. “I’d go to bed at night and dream about what I was going to do with my life,” he admits.
Phinney, who has shouldered a heavy burden of expectation from an early age, suffered a career-threatening leg break in 2014 and this year completed his first full season since the rehabilitation process. It went well, but his outlook on the world changed during his injury lay-off, and he found it increasingly difficult to find meaning in pro bike racing.
“We’re in this place in the sport where it’s like ‘watts, watts, watts, go up to altitude, boom, boom, boom’. But it’s like hold on, why? Tell me why. No one tells you why.
“So many kids get burned out in this sport because you throw them into this pressure cooker of numbers that completely takes people away from the sense of actually riding a bike.”
Phinney did a lot of thinking this season and decided to stick with it – “I realized this was the dream…I realized how incredibly lucky I am” – but concedes that if he were just coming into the sport now, he probably wouldn’t last very long. “Look at a kid like Campbell Flakemore, he turned pro with BMC, raced half the year, then quit.”
Phinney has begun to lay down the foundations and the base miles for the 2017 season with day-long outings on the bike which have helped him reconnect with what he sees as the essence of the sport – “exploration, adventure, betterment of mind and body”.
They have sharpened his awareness that for cycling to continue to make sense to him, to continue to matter, he must always tie what he does in the professional environs – and structured training plans, intervals, and power analysis all await in the coming weeks – back to those roots.
“Where do you go from this wild, analytical, wattage-based sport that didn’t exist 15 years ago?” he asks. “For me it’s mindfulness, being present, actually understanding what the fuck you’re doing. You have to bring it back to a sensory experience at some point, otherwise we’re just going to be like robots.