Thirty-eight months ago Taylor Phinney had a crash that nearly ended his career. He had been slated to start his first Tour de France that July, five weeks after his accident. Instead he spent July of 2014 recovering from injury.
The long-awaited Tour start came three years later than planned. Phinney opened the three-week Grand Tour with 12th place in the stage one individual time trial. The result put him in a position to chase polka dots on stage two.
Phinney seized the opportunity, snagging the stage two’s only two available mountain points. He pulled on the first red-and-white-spotted jersey at the 104th edition of the Tour de France in Liége on Sunday.
“This was the plan this morning,” said Phinney. “To go out and get the KOM jersey. To have a plan work out on the first day of the race is great for the team. It impacts the general flow of things when we start off on a good note. This is my first year with the team, and I’m happy to be the guy that can remix the ignition as R. Kelley would say.”
The second stage of the Tour de France began in Düsseldorf, Germany and covered 203-kilometers en route to its finish in Liège, Belgium. The route featured two categorized climbs – both category four – at kilometer six and kilometer 183.
“We analyzed the stage, and the way the points were going to work today,” said sport director Tom Southam. “We knew if Taylor won the first climb, even if he didn’t win the second, because he was so high on GC, he would automatically get the jersey. We knew if he went in the break and the break went quickly, even if he was caught before the last climb, there would be a good chance he would still have it, an even better chance if he could make it further and get over the second climb.”
Phinney toed the start line 20 minutes before the neutral start was given to ensure he could positon himself at the front of the peloton.
“When he did that, we knew he took the plan seriously,” said Southam. “He applied himself and really got his head into what we had designed for the day, which is as much as you can ask from a rider really.”
When the flag dropped, Phinney pounced. His attack inspired the creation of a four-rider escape that included Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Gobert), Thomas Boudat (Direct Energie) and Laurent Pichon (Fortuneo-Oscaro). The quartet had a minute over the peloton when it reached the first climb. Phinney sprinted up the Côte de Grafenberg to claim the single point available to the first rider over the top.
“We got out there on the road today and we were running in the breakaway, and it felt like a dream,” said Phinney. “You’re racing a bike race but there are so many people out there. And you’re like – what is this? This is unreal. This is the Tour de France.”
The peloton kept Phinney and his breakmates on a short leash. Their maximum advantage of 3:30 came early.