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Cyclist carries a legacy

Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- Taylor Phinney has bright, large dreams: He will pedal down the Champs-Elysees on the final day of the Tour de France. He will be the winner, of course, because he has it in his genes. But before that, he will own an Olympic medal, perhaps even at these Beijing Games, because those run in the family.

Phinney’s mother, Connie Carpenter-Phinney, was a sparkling cyclist in her own time. She won a gold medal in the road race at the 1984 Olympics and competed in speed skating in the 1972 Olympics. His father, Davis Phinney, was the first American to win a stage at the Tour de France and also won an Olympic bronze medal in the team time trial in Los Angeles.

This alone would make Taylor, 18, who has burst onto the cycling stage this season, a major story in an Olympic season -- the rising young phenom, son of phenoms, hoping to reclaim family glory and then take it further.

And there’s this: Davis Phinney underwent brain surgery in April at Stanford. It is something of an experimental surgery with the aim of at least slowing the near-constant spasms experienced by sufferers of Parkinson’s disease. Davis Phinney has had Parkinson’s for almost a decade.

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During this time, as their son has risen to become a world cycling star, as the family dragged their tired bodies and large hopes around the world, there was Davis. He would be standing on the sidelines, his arms tightly wrapped around himself; his words gathered in a bundle and let out in quick bursts of electricity.

It was as if a small Roman candle had gone off, spewing the sentences. Davis would speak and it was fireworks.

“My dad is my inspiration,” Taylor said. “That I’m in this Olympics is because of my mom and dad.”

Davis Phinney tolerated the surgery well and is here in Beijing, something his son had hoped for.

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Taylor Phinney begins his pursuit of gold today in the men’s individual pursuit qualifying. He is expected to easily advance to Saturday’s first round.

The Phinneys, who live in Boulder, Colo., spend most of their time together. The family has lived in Italy, where Connie still runs a cycling school.

Davis is often sought out to be a speaker, describing with his shaking hands and arms what it was like to be one of the only riders on the world road racing circuit in the 1980s, scrabbling from week to week trying to find a few friends to win a few races, telling about his ride up Alpe d’Huez, with its notorious 21 switchbacks.

After dabbling in other sports, Taylor became inspired by cycling when he attended the 2005 Tour de France with his father.

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Davis Phinney had become the first American to win a stage of the world’s biggest race in 1986. It was in 2005 that Lance Armstrong won the last of his record-setting seven Tours.

“I came away from that Tour totally loving the sport,” Taylor Phinney said. “I want to be standing in Paris after finishing a Tour de France someday.”

But first he decided to learn more about bike racing on the wood floors of indoor tracks. Within his first competitive year, Phinney won 23 races. He is still young and isn’t quite ready for the road, which demands strategy, and finding the right team.

But this summer he has been burning up the track circuit.

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“I go to the races to win,” Phinney said. “I have a pretty high expectation of myself and I think I can do that with the right legs. For me, it’ll be cool to be part of the Olympic experience.”

It was only six months ago that Phinney made his track debut and now he will be riding the individual pursuit, not only for experience but as a possible medal winner in an event where most of the top men are well into their 20s.

Last January, he won a World Cup gold medal at the Home Depot Center velodrome. It was only Phinney’s fourth competition on the track. That gold, his father said, was astounding.

“In one meet,” Davis Phinney said, “Taylor just went from being kind of an oddity because of his parents to becoming a legitimate Olympic contender.”

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diane.pucin@latimes.com


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