U.S. cyclist Tejay van Garderen, right, is flanked by Taylor Phinney as he waves before the the Men’s Road Cycling race at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 28, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
By Steve Keating
July 28 (Reuters) – As the pack flashed past Buckingham Palace and turned onto the finishing stretch of the men’s road race at London Games on Saturday, for a moment Taylor Phinney thought he would no longer just be the son of Olympic medalists but an Olympic medalist himself.
After 249.5 km of furious pedaling under a blazing English sun, Phinney could hear the roar of the crowd on the Mall and it energized him for one final push but it wasn’t enough the 22-year-old American beaten to the line and the bronze medal by Norway’s Alexander Kristoff.
Hunched over his bike, faced caked with sweat and dirt, the pain of nearly six hours in the saddle was clear but seemed minor to Phinney as he struggled to deal with a sporting truth, fourth place finishes hurt – a lot.
“Fourth seems like it would be nice but it is the worst place you can imagine at the Olympic Games,” said Phinney. “I gave it the best sprint I had but it wasn’t enough.
“The team was great, I was really happy with my preparation I just have to try and think about this race too much and move forward through the time trial.”
Since he was a young boy everywhere Phinney turned he would see Olympic medals.
His mother Connie was the gold medal winner in the women’s road race at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and his father Davis a bronze medalist in the team time trial at same Games.
Davis was also the second American to win a stage at the Tour de France and while Connie was the youngest member of the U.S. team at the 1972 Winter Games where she competed in speed skating as a 14-year-old.
At the Beijing Games the closest Phinney would come an Olympic podium was a brief romance with U.S. gold medal gymnast Shawn Johnson.
While his cycling resume may not yet stake up against his parents it is not one to be sniffed at either.
He has twice won gold in the individual pursuit at the track cycling world championships and this year captured the opening time trail at the Giro d’Italia and wore the leader’s pink jersey for three days.
When the individual pursuit was dropped from the Games program, Phinney committed himself to road racing and will now focus his attention on Wednesday’s time trial and adding to the family’s Olympic legacy.
“I know I have good legs and good fitness but that’s something I knew coming into these Games,” said Phinney. “It makes me hungrier for sure but it is definitely disappointing.”
After a few words of encouragement from Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the 144 riders thundered up the Mall towards Buckingham Palace and the first of nine laps, each including a punishing climb up Box Hill.
Officials estimated that over 1 million spectators lined the route for one of the London Games few free events but through the early stages Phinney received scant attention as some of cycling’s biggest names seized the spotlight.
Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov easily outsprinted Colombian Rigoberto Uran for the gold after the two men broke away to set up an anti-climatic finish leaving much drama on a stampede for the final place on the podium.
“I gave everything I had, I was cramping on lap eight and lap nine and really felt terrible the last 40 kilometers,” offered a dejected Phinney. “But as we got closer to the finish the crowds were so loud and Tejay (Garderen) had been doing such a good job that it kind of hit me that this is the Olympics and I’m going for a medal right and this is not going to happen again in the near future so…”