published Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Phinney Phenomenon

Be sure and cheer on these male competitors from the Southeast

Andrew Baker Astellas Cycling Team Easley, SC

Christopher Butler Hincapie Sportswear Greenville, SC

Oscar Clark Hincapie Sportswear Athens, GA

Charlie Hough Hincapie Sportswear Travelers Rest, SC

Tyler Magner Hincapie Sportswear Griffin, GA

Alder Martz Hincapie Sportswear Greenville, SC

John Murphy UnitedHealthcare Horse Shoe, NC

Christian Parrett 5-Hour Energy p/b Kenda Macon, GA

Joseph Rosskopf Hincapie Sportswear Athens, GA

Robert Sweeting 5-Hour Energy p/b Kenda Asheville, NC

Christopher Uberti Astellas Cycling Team Greenville, SC

Handcycling takes the stage

In addition to the professional bicycle riders in town for the USA Cycling Professional Road Race and Time Trial Championships this weekend, some of the best and most inspiring handcyclists in the nation will also be returning to town to compete.

On Saturday, the handcyclists will compete in various categories in the time trial at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant.

On Monday, between the men’s and women’s road races, the handcyclists will take to the streets of downtown Chattanooga to take part in the U.S. Handcycling Criterium National Championships.

More than 100 athletes will compete in the handcycling events, and many of these competitors are wounded military personnel.

These men and women are a true

inspiration, and they never fail to compete

hard and put on a good show

Taylor Phinney has been “the next big thing” in American cycling for half a decade, and he’s not even 24 years old.

Phinney was winning cycling world championships on the track as a teenager, and he won the USA Cycling time trial championship shortly after turning 20. Those early successes, put him on the map as the face of a new generation of cyclists as the sport tries put the scandals of the Lance Armstrong era in the past. In the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Phinney finished fourth in both the men’s cycling road race and time trial, further cementing his reputation.

After not competing at the nationals for the past two years, Phinney will be in Chattanooga this weekend to compete in the USA Cycling Professional Road Race and Time Trial Championships. The time trial will be held Saturday at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant, and the road race will be held Memorial Day in downtown Chattanooga as well as climbs up Lookout Mountain.

“I’m super excited to come back [to nationals],” he said last week from California where he was competing in the Amgen Tour of California. “I won a national title four years ago in 2010, and I haven’t been to the nationals in the past couple of years. I’m definitely excited to come back, and I’ve heard great things about Chattanooga, both as a city and as far as the course is concerned.

“So I can’t wait to get out there and check it out. I’ve always been a fan of the south, so I’m excited to be there, that’s for sure.”

US PRO RETURNS TO CHATTANOOGA

This will be the second year in Chattanooga for the USA Cycling pro championships, which is the national championship for men and women pro cyclists in the United States. In 2013, Tom Zirbel won the men’s time trial for the first time after finishing second in 2008, 2009 and 2011, and 39-year-old Freddie Rodriguez won the men’s road race for his fourth national championship in that discipline.

In the 2013 women’s championships, Carmen Small won the time trial and Jade Wilcoxson won the road race.

All four of last year’s defending champions are expected to be back this weekend to defend their titles and try to retain the Stars and Stripes jersey awarded to the national champion.

The courses remain mostly the same as last year, with the 19-mile time trial course starting and ending at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant, while the road race will feature several circuits through downtown Chattanooga, the North Shore, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and several grueling climbs up Lookout Mountain before finishing on Market Street at M.L. King Boulevard.

Chattanooga police estimated that more than 25,000 spectators lined the road-race route to cheer on the riders on Memorial Day last year.

While he hadn’t seen the Chattanooga courses until this week, Phinney said last week that he had learned some details about the course from riders who competed last year.

“The time trial is pretty straight forward,” he said. “It’s an out-and-back course and sort of rolling to flat [terrain]. The road race is a bit more difficult with that climb up Lookout Mountain. We’re going to do that four times, and it’s a pretty difficult climb. It’s around two and a half miles at eight or nine percent [gradient], which is pretty difficult for us.”

CYCLING LEGACY

Taylor Phinney success on the bike shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Both his parents are previous U.S. cycling champions, and notable athletes in their own rights. His father, Davis Phinney, was an American cycling pioneer in the 1980s who won two stage victories in the Tour de France. Connie Carpenter-Phinney, Taylor’s mother, was 14 years old when she competed as a speed skater in the 1972 Winter Olympics, becoming the youngest American ever to compete in a winter games. Later, she became a premier cyclist, winning three national titles and a gold medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. If that’s not impressive enough, Taylor’s sister, Kelsey Phinney, is a noted collegiate skier at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Davis Phinney knew early on that Taylor had what it would take to be great cyclist.

“In his very first bike race, we’re just outside of Boulder (Colo.) on this little circuit with a hill,” Davis Phinney said in a recent phone interview. “Connie and I were on the back side of the course. We hear the gun go off, and the first time up the hill, Taylor takes off and rides away from his junior class solo. Just by the way he sat on the bike and his purpose and everything, I just turnned Connie and said ‘Oh man, does he have it or what?’

“Just my gut reaction at seeing him race was that he was just purpose built for the sport.”

Phinney races for BMC Racing, a UCI Pro Tour team that competes in most of the major races in Europe including the Tour de France, and Phinney is off to an exceptional season thus far. He finished first in the Dubai Tour in February, and just over a week ago on May 15 he won the fifth stage of the Amgen Tour of California.

In addition to Pro Tour riders such as Phinney, the USA Cycling pro championships also attracts American riders on smaller domestic teams, bringing together riders who don’t normally compete against each other.

“The national championships is an interesting race because you have a lot of guys from continental teams that only race in the United States,” Taylor Phinney said. “And then you get a couple of guys on the world tour teams that are racing primarily in Europe.

“Having that mix in this race always yields interesting results.”

KENT STREET KICKER

The one big route change for 2014 will be on Chattanooga’s North Shore. The route will now take riders up an extremely steep climb up Kent Street between Woodland and Forest avenues before a sharp descent down Forest Avenue back onto Frazier Avenue. The Kent Street section should punish riders with a short but difficult climb up a grade of more than 22 percent.

“That’s the kind of stuff that I like, those really short, punchy, steep climbs,” Taylor Phinney said. “It sort of provides a launching pad to maybe get away by yourself and go to the finish alone or with a select group of guys.”

OFF-THE-BIKE PANACHE

In addition to his undeniable talent on the bike, Taylor Phinney has brought some much-needed panache to the sport of cycling in the United States. He’s active on social media, known as a sharp dresser off the bike and not afraid to let his personality and sense of humor show to fans and the media. Earlier this year, he was featured in a cover story in VeloNews magazine which highlighted his style and how he’s making American cycling interesting after almost 15 years of seemingly endless doping scandals took much of the fun from the sport.

“I just try to be real with people by being open and honest and also an entertainer at the same time,” he said. “All I can do is be me … and try to help us move on from a tough period a decade ago.

“I try to have fun with things as well, and let people know that I’m having fun and that I enjoy what I do.”

Davis Phinney said that he has tried to let Taylor make his own way in the sport, only offering subtle advice from time to time early in his career.

“I gave him a fair amount of advice specific to racing when he was younger because he was so good right away that he almost jumped the learning curve,” Davis Phinney said. “I’m a storyteller by nature, so I’d tell him a lot of stories as metaphors for things that he could keep in mind relating to him being a bike racer.

“Any more, unless he asks I don’t really give him too much advice on racing because his level of racing has evolved considerably. I may still tell him an entertaining story or anecdote, but he’s living and breathing it. He’s been a pro for four years, so he’s gained him considerable wisdom and experience.”

This weekend, the Taylor Phinney express will roll into the Scenic City, bringing his particular brand of style, humor and excitement to the USA Cycling pro championships. But his primary goal will be victory, and if his results coming into this weekend are any indication it’s going to take a special performance for anyone to beat him.

Taylor Phinney could be just what professional cycling needs in the United States, and he’s coming to Chattanooga this weekend to put on a show.

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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