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But just because he hit a kind of genetic jackpot—Dad's top-end speed, Mom's bottomless endurance—doesn't mean Taylor was in any hurry to race bikes. Yes, he'd caused jaws to drop at the cycling camps his parents run in Italy. But he wasn't smitten by the sport until the summer of 2005, when the family attended the Tour de France. Between the pageantry of the Grande Boucle and a private audience with an old friend of his father's (a guy by the name of Armstrong) Taylor decided he wanted in. He won 23 times the following year, mostly local and regional amateur races. Then, a year later, he crushed all comers in the time trial at the junior worlds.
His first season on the track ended last week at the UCI world championships in Manchester, England. Trailing former world champ Sergi Escobar of Spain with two laps to go, the Boulder (Colo.) High senior hit warp drive, smoking the Spaniard by two seconds, setting a new junior world record and lopping two seconds off his personal best. While his 4:22.358 time slotted him into eighth place in Manchester, Phinney finished the season ranked third in the world, good for a berth at the Beijing Olympics, where his elders will do well to be wary of him. Newbie though he may be, Phinney's times keep tumbling. And he is lit from within by a supreme, if quiet, confidence. As he said in Manchester, "I go to races to win."
Careful not to be overbearing, Davis wants to make sure his son reaps the benefits of his own experience. Lacking such a mentor early in his career, Phinney the elder was forced to find his own way in a sport that is as brutal as it is beautiful.
GO, DAVIS! With the peloton whooshing past at the 1976 junior national road race in Louisville, Damon Phinney shouted encouragement to his 16-year-old son—whom, truth be told, he never saw.
Five minutes later a lone rider came into view. Young Davis was standing on his pedals, pumping frantically to catch the pack, weeping with frustration and disappointment.
He'd flatted a hundred meters into the race. No one had told him that it wasn't a good idea to race on the same tubes and tires he'd been training on for the last three months. By the time he'd scared up a spare and gotten back on the road, his race, for all practical purposes, was over.
"It was going to be this great bonding experience with my father," recalls Davis, still pained by the memory. (Damon died in 2001 of prostate cancer.) "He said about five words during the thousand-mile drive back to Colorado."
In the ensuing years Davis learned to take care of his bike, to pace himself and to hold his ground in the cutthroat world of the peloton. He also learned this: Husbanded properly and applied judiciously, his greatest gift—unalloyed, explosive speed—could make him a handsome living.
Cash Register, as he came to be nicknamed, won four national championships. He won an Olympic bronze medal and 22 stages of a seminal American race called the Coors Classic. In his prime he rode for the pioneering, gate-crashing 7-Eleven squad, the first North American team to barnstorm Europe. Here was this motley crew of arrivistes—Phinney, Andy Hampsten, Alex Stieda, Eric Heiden, Ron Kiefel and a gap-toothed bodyguard named Bob Roll, among others—racing in the ancient cradle of high culture and haute cuisine under the banner of that quintessentially American invention: the convenience store. The vibe they got from Euro riders at first, Phinney recalls, was, Who the hell are you, and how did you get into our race?
But the North Americans more than held their own on the Continent. "I know you're not supposed to compare eras," says Roll, now a cycling commentator for Versus. "But if that team could race in today's Tour of California, Davis would never lose a sprint. He would massacre the field. We would lead him out, and he'd drop the hammer and just destroy people. He'd have 15 wins in that race. That's how talented he was."