The inside word about Taylor Phinney’s recovery

Jun 10, 2014
Category: Rider Interviews  Stage 5 

It was great to hear Taylor Phinney’s enthusiastic voice this morning on a media conference call from the Park City Medical Center in Park City, Utah where the U.S. National Time Trial Champion continues his recovery from the broken left tibula that he sustained Memorial Day during the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional National Road Race Championship in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Phinney underwent a pair of surgeries to repair the compound fracture that he said occurred “just to my tibia.” He described it as a “clean break” for which a nail and a couple of screws were inserted “to put the tibia back to the fibula.” The gnarly high-speed crash on the descent after the first trip up Lookout Mountain severed Phinney’s patella tendon that the surgeon “would have had to cut to put the nail in anyway.” The surgery cut off about a centimeter of Phinney’s patella, which he said is no problem since doctors had described his patella as being larger than normal.

Phinney made it a point to thank his BMC Racing team for their ongoing support throughout the ordeal and especially thanked first responders, including fellow racer and friend Lucas Euser (UnitedHealthcare), who gave up his race to be at Phinney’s side after narrowly escaping serious injury by crashing into a wall rear wheel first while trying to avoid Phinney, who slid into a guardrail. Phinney and Euser often train together in Boulder, Colorado as part of a group of domestic and WorldTour pros known as the Wolf Pack.

“I’m eternally grateful to him for what he did for me. It goes above and beyond friendship and takes it to another level,” said Phinney about Euser, who selflessly gave up his race to help calm his colleague who laid on the road wreathing in agony. “I’d like to think that I would have done the same thing for him.”

Phinney said that he was sentenced to crutches for 6-8 weeks from the date of the surgery so he’s hoping to only have four weeks left before he can start putting weight on the leg and get back onto a bicycle, which will probably be a stationary bike at first. In the short term, he anticipates returning home to Boulder soon after his stitches are removed.

Having never broken a bone before, Phinney said “The first week after the surgery was the hardest.” He’s begun physical therapy and is doing rehab 6 to 8 hours a day stating that he’s already ahead of schedule although for now he’s pretty much limited to simply flexing his knee. At this point, he can bend the knee 100 degrees. “I remain optimistic and I know that I have to be patient and conservative to protect the rest of my career.”

Phinney admitted that he’s bored and has been watching a lot of sports on television to help kill time - specifically the NBA playoffs and the NHL Stanley Cup Finals. He’s watched some cycling as well, including the Criterium du Dauphine where he is following his team and leader Tejay van Garderen. Phinney had been scheduled to be there racing in preparation for what was to have been his Tour de France debut.

The crash allegedly occurred when a commissar’s moto misjudged the rapidly approaching riders (Phinney and Euser). USA Cycling is conducting an investigation and thus far Phinney has not heard from the moto driver nor does he know who the person is.

“I’m taken aback from a human standpoint,” said a disappointed Phinney. “It was negligence. He wasn’t paying attention and wasn’t aware of the speed we were coming up on him. He didn’t react properly. He braked instead of accelerated. You should never ever have a crash involving a commissar’s moto or the (race) caravan. We just can’t have people riding on vehicles that are undertrained or ill equipped.”

Phinney’s attitude is positive and he seems open to the deeper meaning of the experience. He isn’t harboring any anger or animosity towards the moto driver. “I’m not bitter about anything. I do get frustrated with my current state like when I crutch around for 20 meters and need to take a break because I’m winded. But the best thing about being human is when you make a mistake that you can apologize and make it right with those involved.”

The recent Amgen Tour of California Stage 5 winner said, “I was advised not to dwell on it. It happened, but I need to look forward and focus on the future. I look forward to rebuilding my body again from scratch.”

Phinney expects his mental outlook to be different when he comes back including having greater focus and appreciation. “I’ll probably be a little more conservative and a little bit smarter not taking anything for granted.”   

The two-time Olympian who turns 24 on June 27 said that he never considered quitting the sport even when looking at his mangled leg after the accident, but like any athlete who has been through a traumatic, potentially career-threatening injury, he realizes that he should have “a backup plan just in case.”

Phinney said he’s grateful that since he’s not in a contract year he can “come back when I need to come back, when I’m healthy to come back.” He is “engaged and committed” to the recovery process that will require him to be “vigilant about taking care of this left knee for the next year, year-and-a-half.”

It’s too soon to know if Phinney will race again in 2014, but his mental strength, fortitude and support system led by his mother, BMC Racing and team doctors, Dr. Max Testa and Dr. Eric Heiden, are valuable assets. “I have the pieces in place to make a full recovery and have the necessary tools at my disposal to come back from this. I’m confident just in general.”

Whether it is this year or next season, look for Phinney to be back in the pro peloton winning bike races.