CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee (VN) — BMC Racing’s Taylor Phinney had hoped to become the first American man to win both the U.S. time trial and road race championships in the same season this weekend in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Instead, a broken left leg suffered during Monday’s road race leaves the remainder of the 23-year-old’s season in doubt.
The question is: Was a race vehicle to blame?
UnitedHealthcare rider Lucas Euser was descending just behind Phinney, when the pair encountered a race moto as they rounded a sharp left-hand turn on their first descent of Lookout Mountain.
Euser said the pair had to take evasive action to avoid the race moto, which left Phinney in Chattanooga’s Erlanger Medical Center Monday night.
“We were descending really fast,” Euser told VeloNews at the race finish. “Taylor is an amazing descender and I know that, so I was comfortable coming close to him. He probably had 10 or 20 meters on me.”
As the pair rounded a sharp left turn, disaster struck.
“We came into that left-hander really fast, and [Taylor] caught the lead moto. The moto got these wobbles and it took Taylor on the inside of the corner. And there was nothing he could do. When you go on the inside of that corner that fast, you’re going down.”
Euser says the pair split off in opposite directions, each seeking to avoid a collision with the motorcycle.
“He went inside left and I went right. I thought for sure we were both K.O.’d at that point. I felt like I was going down,” a visibly shaken Euser explained. “I went into the concrete wall and I disintegrated my rear wheel and my pedal and everything. I popped up against that wall, while he hit the guardrail. That’s what did his damage.”
Garmin-Sharp’s Tom Danielson was descending in the same area. He told VeloNews that the pair was lucky to survive.
“Taylor came around me going Mach 10, with Lucas on his wheel,” Danielson said. “There was maybe one turn that was hard on that descent, and that was it. It just kind of comes back on itself. Lucas was very lucky. I thought he was gone, too. I saw him and I was like, ‘You know? That’s it.’”
Live video, during the moments the crash developed, were not shown on USA Cycling’s live webcast from Chattanooga.
Phinney underwent surgery Monday evening to repair a compound fracture of the left tibia and fibula; his left knee was also injured in the crash, though the extent of that injury has not been determined.
Euser, who suffered only a superficial wound to his elbow, abandoned the race to stay beside Phinney.
“From what I saw when I first got to him I knew he would [need surgery],” Euser said. “It was just a matter of not letting him move and keeping him calm until the medics got there. I’ve been in that position, that other position, and I know that at that point you need someone to just be there and make sure you get help as soon as possible.”
Euser told VeloNews that the accident scene spoke to its severity.
“Taylor’s bike was 40 feet down the road, and he was underneath the barrier. I didn’t see exactly how he crashed, because I was trying not to die myself. When the BMC car got there they were like, ‘Where’s his bike?’ and they pointed down the road. They were wondering how it got there.”
VeloNews contacted USA Cycling Monday to seek additional information on the role of the race moto. In a pair of emails, USAC spokesman Bill Kellick was unable to substantiate the cause of the crash.
“We do know there was no contact between any rider and any vehicle, but we are still looking into exactly what happened,” Kellick wrote.
At time of publication, the identity of the moto driver was unknown.
Incidents of riders being taken down by race vehicles are abundant in pro cycling; the most glaring recent example occurred at the 2011 Tour de France, when a media car took out Dutch rider Johnny Hoogerland and Spaniard Juan Antonio Flecha.
In a press release regarding the men’s road race, USA Cycling made no mention of the cause of the injury to its newly crowned national TT champ, writing, “The men’s road race was marred by a crash on the first descent down Lookout Mountain that resulted in Friday’s time trial champion, Taylor Phinney (Boulder, Colo./BMC Racing Team), suffering a broken leg.”
VeloNews spoke with Taylor’s father, former 7-Eleven sprinter Davis Phinney, from his home in Boulder, Colorado, Monday evening.
“It’s such a bummer,” the elder Phinney said of the crash. “[Taylor’s mother Connie Carpenter] called me right before he went into surgery and she handed the phone to Taylor, so I was able to chat with him. He was amazingly coherent. As [Taylor] related it, he came upon a motorcycle and the [driver] was either confused or uncertain. I was really surprised to hear how the accident had happened because I’m so secure in Taylor’s descending skills.”
The younger Phinney won a stage of the Amgen Tour of California on May 15, largely on the strength of his skills down the descent from San Marcos Pass. He won his second national time trial championship on Saturday, and had planned to debut a custom stars-and-stripes skinsuit in the prologue of the Criterium du Dauphine on Sunday, June 8. The mishap almost certainly scuttles Phinney’s hopes to ride his first Tour de France in July.
But the BMC racer’s father said his son will be back… in time.
“He was definitely resolute in that he was like, ‘I’m going to come back and kick some ass.’ But you know, saying that and doing it… I totally believe that he can, and will, come back as good as ever. It could have been worse, but it is still is so, so disappointing.”