How is it possible?
Fourteen months after breaking more bones in his leg than many know exist, Taylor Phinney beat the odds and came back. Monday, at Phinney's first cycling event since the horrific crash, he beat the odds again and broke away from the main peloton in the closing circuits, coming just shy of a victory during the first stage of the Tour of Utah.
Kiel Reijnen came away with the stage win after a sprint between the four who remained in the breakaway, but Phinney's third-place finish is, in itself, a victory of sorts.
Phinney announced July 31 that he would make his return to cycling at the week-long Tour, which is one of five multi-stage events sanctioned by the UCI in North America.
"It feels sweet. I'm really excited to race," Phinney told the Times Free Press after announcing his return. "I'm a bit anxious, but not in a stressed or nervous way — I just kind of want to get back into it."
During the road race championships on Memorial Day of 2014, the Team BMC rider slid into a guardrail on the side of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which snapped his tibia and fibula and injured his knee.
The injury came right as Phinney was hitting his stride and raising eyebrows around the cycling world. That year, the American rider already posted a stage win and overall victory at the Tour of Dubai, a stage win at the Tour of California, and he won the time trial national championship.
That was hardly a surprise to anyone who followed the young cyclist's career. The son of two professional athletes – his father a cyclist and his mother a speed skater and Olympic road race gold medalist – it seemed a sure-bet that Phinney would become America's next great cyclist.
"I kind of always took it for granted the fact that my parents were Olympic medalists," Phinney says.
After a long rehab, Phinney got back in the saddle February and began training for his comeback, but there were times the then-24-year-old didn't know if he'd ever return.
"I am glad I kind of had to think about that ? having to think about my life without the bike," Phinney told Velo News. "It puts a lot of things into perspective. It makes you realize how lucky we all are to be here racing our bikes."
Regardless, his rehab proved successful and the cyclist's "square one" is still ahead of whatever square most professional cyclists currently occupy.
"Taylor has been working very hard to get to where he is now and believes that he is ready to race," BMC Racing team doctor Max Testa says. "The team has no expectations of him. He will test his condition to see where his knee is and what kind of condition he has. From this race, he can gauge what the rest of the season may look like."
Finishing third on his first stage after a 14-month involuntary hiatus, Phinney would have crushed even the most optimistic of expectations.
It's safe to say we can start expecting great things from the American rider again.
More: A Q&A with Marianne Vos
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