Taylor Phinney was genetically programmed to be a pro cyclist.
I first became aware of his family tree during a bike ride with a friend who was wearing a rather natty Rapha jersey: “the Davis Phinney” I was told. Which turns out to be Taylor’s dad. If Rapha are branding jerseys with your dad’s name, trust me – you’ve got the genes. Mum is Connie Carpenter, the speed skating Winter Olympic finalist and Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist.
The moustache is a different matter entirely, though. Unless I’m mistaken and science has managed to pinpoint the ‘tache gene and plot it back through the generations, that lip-hugging beauty is all his own work.
Phinney was always going to be cool, and with that Olympian blood he was always going to be a pro-cyclist.
My family is from coal mining stock, and rooted in the hard graft of the North East of England, which I’m naturally proud of, but it doesn’t quite carry the glamour of the Olympics. Even before British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher cruelly dismantled the industry in the 1980’s, in favour of a national economy with foundations in the shifting sands of the service industry, coal mining was cruelly overlooked by the Olympic committee.
Golf is in there, as is trampolining, but coal mining never got a look in. Too menial and lacking in glamour, I suppose. Although up until 1920 Tug ‘o War was part of the summer Olympics, and you don’t get much more menial than pulling on a rope as hard as you can.
The (slightly long-winded) point I’m making is that most of us are a long way from an Olympic bloodline. Phinney is lucky.
Not only that, but pro-cycling is lucky to have him. There’s no crowd quite as impenetrable as a pro peloton, and even those of us who know a thing or two about the sport can have trouble picking out riders in amongst the mêlée. Phinney is a man who stands out from the crowd. It’s the charisma, the bold facial hair, and the lop-sided legs, one longer than the other after the leg break in 2014 at the US National Road Championships.
It was during his rehabilitation from that horror crash that interviewers began to delve into his passion for art, and creativity, and his habit of coming out with thoughtful stuff far beyond the media trained rent-a-quote of many sports-people.
Back in 2012 he was talking about the ethically murky issue of painkillers in pro-cycling, taken legally by riders to help them ride through the pain, and of his opposition to the use of TUE’s (therapeutic use exemptions) which allow banned substances to be used for medical reasons. A subject that has now reared its head again in 2016 with the debate around methods used at Team Sky.
These days he muses more philosophically too, as in this recent article on cyclingtips.com: “Taylor Phinney on purpose, changing teams, and the unbearable heaviness of invisible weight.”
“Everybody has their own issues in their own life, and that comes first for them…and then any sort of expectation, any sort of desire for someone else to do well in a bike race is really superficial. It’s not something that needs to weigh anybody down.”
That’s what’s known as perspective. I like to picture him waxing and twiddling his prodigious moustache as he mulls this stuff over. You don’t get quotes like that from your average Premier League footballer.