published Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Taylor Phinney's mom offers support after accident

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    A race spectator's camera caught the scene as, descending Lookout Mountain, Taylor Phinney crashes into the guardrail just after crossing the bridge over the Incline Railway.

The past week has been a whirlwind of emotions for Connie Carpenter Phinney.

At the start, she celebrated in Chattanooga as her son, BMC Racing pro cyclist Taylor Phinney, won the men's time trial national championship at the USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial Championships.

The 24-year-old from Boulder, Colo., one of the bright young stars in American cycling, was planning to ride in his first Tour de France later this year. He had already won the Dubai Tour and a stage in the Tour of California, so a weekend sweep in Chattanooga was not out of the question heading into Monday's road race.

"I think Taylor was really motivated to win the road race, and if not win just have a great race," Carpenter Phinney said in an interview Friday afternoon. "He's a racehorse and likes to race. I think he felt the course suited him. When Allison [Powers] won [the women's road race title Monday morning] it sort of confirmed that the course was one not necessarily a super climber course but a course for the power riders.

"I was optimistic for him."

The 102-mile men's road race featured circuits through downtown, the North Shore, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and four climbs and descents of Lookout Mountain to determine a national champion.

But Phinney's race came to an abrupt end on the first descent of Lookout when he crashed on the bridge over the Incline Railway and slid into a guardrail, breaking the tibia and fibula in his left leg.

"When I heard a rider had crashed, and then we heard a BMC rider," Carpenter Phinney said. "At that point it's 50-50 if it's Taylor or Peter [Stetina] since there were only two of them in the race."

Then came a call from a BMC team official saying that Taylor was being taken to Erlanger with a potentially career-threatening injury.

"Team directors are not prone to exaggeration, so when they tell you it doesn't look good you know it's really bad," she said. She and Neal Henderson, Taylor's junior coach, "just started running toward the hospital."

"We flagged down one of the police cars and they had a car take us, so we actually arrived at the hospital before Taylor."

She spoke briefly with Taylor before he was stabilized and prepared for surgery.

"Right from the first minute I saw him in the ER, he knew what had happened in terms of the accident," she said. "He was very clear and very lucid, which made me feel good because I knew he hadn't hurt his head. You can always say things could have been worse, but in this case it certainly is true."

Erlanger trauma surgeon Paul Apyan was the first doctor to treat Taylor Phinney, and orthopedic surgeon Peter Nowotarski operated on him as well. Phinney had surgery Monday and again Wednesday.

Carpenter Phinney said she was impressed with the treatment her son received at Erlanger for his entire four-day stay.

"A lot of people in Chattanooga may not realize what [a Level 1 trauma center] means," she said. "That's a very high standard of care for really traumatic injuries. It means that you have the best people in place to care for people.

"Everybody at the hospital has been fabulous, to be honest with you. The surgeons have been absolutely top-notch. I feel fortunate that he was able to have that."

On Saturday, Phinney was transported by air ambulance to Park City, Utah, where he will be under the care of BMC team doctors Max Testa and Eric Heiden. Heiden is a former speed skater and pro cyclist who won five individual gold medals at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Carpenter Phinney is a four-time women's road race national champion and won gold in the women's road race at the 1984 Olympic Games. She said the Chattanooga course is well set up and that neither she or her son had concerns heading into the race.

"This was a good course," she said "If you look at the kind of roads that they are accustomed to racing on, this is what they are used to. What it depends on is having the road free of vehicles.

"... These guys are so highly attuned to what they're doing and their reaction times are so good. So was this an unusual course for them? No. Was it a dangerous course for them? Not on paper."

She said she and Taylor have no ill will toward the city or the race that likely cost him the remainder of the 2014 season.

"I have found this be a really lovely city, to be honest with you," she said while eating lunch at Urban Stack downtown. "I got to take a really long bike ride on Sunday up into Georgia and up the back side of Lookout and back into the city.

"It's just beautiful here, and the cycling community is so enthusiastic. Cycling is good for the city and it's a beautiful place to ride a bike. And it's a beautiful place for the national championships. The question is how did this [accident] happen, and let's not let this happen again."

Carpenter Phinney and her husband, former pro cyclist and Tour de France stage winner Davis Phinney, know the dangers of bicycle racing, and she's not immune to the concern that all mother's have for their children's safety.

“Mom's worry,” she said. “I'm always gonna worry, and I probably worry more than some moms because I know the experience of hitting the ground myself.

“But at the same time it's what Taylor loves to do, and what he is absolutely one of the best in the world at doing. As a parent I think the one thing that you wish for your child is that they're passionate about something and that they love what they're doing. And both my kids [daughter Kelsey Phinney is a elite collegiate skier] are in this category and they're both highly skilled at what they do.

“But I'm always going to worry.”

Contact Jim Tanner at jtanner@timesfreepress.com or 423-653-9631. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JFTanner.

about Jim Tanner...

Jim Tanner has worked as assistant sports editor at the Times Free Press since late 2006. He started at the Times Free Press in 2001 and worked as a news copy/design editor from 2001 through 2006. In addition to working as a night and weekend editor producing local and national sports coverage for print and online readers, Jim occasionally writes local sports and outdoors stories. Jim grew up in Ringgold, Ga., and is a graduate ...

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