The son of two of America's most decorated riders, 17-year-old Taylor Phinney has emerged as the next great U.S. prospect -- and a source of inspiration to his father, who is battling Parkinson's
Posted: Tuesday April 1, 2008 11:11AM; Updated: Tuesday April 1, 2008 2:45PM
Go ahead, stare. He's used to it. Davis Phinney has mistimed his meds, and now the poor guy is vibrating as if he were a figurine in an old school electric football game. One of the greatest cyclists in American history is slowly being hollowed out by an adversary he has dubbed the Body Snatcher. This once ferocious sprinter, this charismatic and handsome raconteur now suffers from early-onset Parkinson's disease.
The fates are cruel.
Phinney, 48, is pacing and fretting inside the banked oval track at a velodrome in Carson, Calif. It is Jan. 18. A crowd of several hundred has gathered at this International Cycling Union (UCI) World Cup track event to see the sport's Next Big Thing, who also goes by the nicknames The Future and Mini-Phinney (even though, at 6' 4" and 170 pounds, he has half a foot on his old man). Taylor Phinney, 17, is the most promising young talent to come onto the U.S. cycling scene in more than a decade.
"We saw Greg LeMond when he was on his way," says Roger Young, a legendary coach and the director of the Carson facility. "We saw Lance [Armstrong] when he was on his way. You knew those guys were going to do something great. Taylor is going to do something great."
In his darkest hours, when he can't help but reflect on how the final race of his life is going to end, Davis has this balm, this windfall: He has bequeathed to the cycling world a talent as vast as his own. "Beyond his gifts as an athlete," Davis says of his son, "he's got this poise and intelligence and a way of carrying himself. I'm in awe of the man he's becoming."
The fates are generous.
In 2006, based on the kid's pedigree as much as anything, Jonathan Vaughters, director of Team Slipstream, made a place for Taylor on his under-23 squad. A year later Taylor laid waste to the field in the time trial at the junior world championships in Aguascalientes, Mexico. It's worth watching the YouTube video of that victory, shot from the follow car, if only to hear Davis, quavering and incredulous, proclaim, "Holy f-----' s---! Taylor's gonna be world champion!"
While his future is on the road, Taylor is in Carson to compete in the individual pursuit, a 16-lap, four-kilometer race between two riders who start on opposite sides of the oval. He'd never even tried this event until last October, when he entered it at the U.S. championships. And won. Quite comfortably.
Now, with his qualifying heat drawing nigh, the time has come for Taylor to remove his iPod earbuds and don his Jetsonian, teardrop-shaped helmet. A teammate has trimmed the straps on the helmet to reduce drag. Problem: The opposing ends of the buckle will not attach under Taylor's chin. Solution: a plastic zip tie. With the helmet safely and firmly on his son's head, Davis procures scissors and attempts, with considerable drama but no success, to trim the end of the zip tie.