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'Mini' Phinney Hopes to Cycle to Olympic Gold


Cycling has been part of Taylor Phinney's life for all of his 18 years. The son of former road racer Davis Phinney and 1984 Olympic gold medalist Connie Carpenter-Phinney, Taylor - known affectionately as Mini Phinney - has taken track cycling by storm, qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team just six months after his first race in a velodrome.

Taylor Phinney must have cycling in his blood. His father Davis Phinney was the first American to win a stage of the Tour de France in 1986. His mother, Connie Carpenter Phinney, was the road race gold medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Within his first year of competitive cycling, Taylor won 23 races. His first trip around a velodrome, used for cycling's track events, was in Colorado Springs, Colorado last September.

Phinney adapted to the 33-degree turns at the concrete track, but stopping the fixed-gear bike with no brakes proved a little embarrassing. When he stopped the back wheel of his bike, his feet accidentally unclipped and he plunged onto the frame. He had to ride in that awkward position for at least a lap until he could recover.

The relatively flat Colorado track is nothing like the tight, steep, wooden 250-meter indoor velodrome in Beijing. But Phinney, who just turned 18 on June 27, has proven his youth and relative inexperience are not a hindrance to success. In January he earned an Olympic nomination in the 4,000-meter individual pursuit race at the third round of the International Cycling Union's Track World Cup Classics series in Los Angeles.

His time of 4:25.684 earned him an automatic berth in the Olympics. Not bad for a young man who just graduated high school. In March, he finished eighth in the individual pursuit at the World Track Cycling Championships in Manchester, England. In June, Taylor set a new junior world record in the three-thousand meter individual pursuit race (3:16.589).

Some say his pedigree is the reason for his success. Others say it is hard work that is the key. Taylor Phinney says that a typical day for him involves morning and afternoon training, and of course time being a teenager.

"Regular training day, I usually wake up and ride maybe 30 minutes in the morning, just on a stationary [bike] trainer in my basement," said Taylor Phinney. "You know, just playing video games or watching TV or whatever, just riding my bike. And then I will have some breakfast. And I still have to go to school. And then after school I will come back from school and I go on another ride from between one to three hours. So it really depends on the day. And after that I just come home and vedge out [relax] and recover."

Since Phinney does not live near a velodrome and had to finish high school this past year in Boulder, Colorado, he did much of his training at home on specially-designed rollers that simulate the speed of the track. But his success has taken a back seat to his family - his father Davis Phinney had to undergo brain surgery April 4, eight years after being diagnosed with Parkinson's syndrome, a degenerative disease that attacks the central nervous system.

The former Tour de France stage winner now has a pacemaker in his brain attached to a small controller in his chest. The device reduces the tremors that accompany Parkinson's. Davis Phinney's doctors say the therapy can turn the clock back five years. As a tribute to his dad, Taylor uses the same signal for victory - his arms thrust skyward in a giant "V" shape - that his father did when he won 328 races in an 18-year career.

Apart from his training and his father's battle with disease, Taylor Phinney sounds like a normal teenager. He says that he spends his free time with friends or just relaxing at home.

"You know, I just like hanging out with friends, whether it is playing video games or just, um, I have a trampoline I like to jump on, doing flips and tricks," he said. "And you. know just hanging out in general. It is nice; it is relaxing."

Taylor Phinney says his favorite Olympic moment is one that happened before he was born - when his mother won her gold medal at the 1984 Olympics. He says he has seen the race on video. Taylor is under contract with Team Slipstream. He hopes to expand his competition to road cycling, and Slipstream team leader Jonathan Vaughters has predicted a career similar to that of Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara, the reigning time-trial world champion. Taylor Phinney's first step toward that career comes at the Beijing Olympics.

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