Project Taylor

He's got the genes and the killer instinct, and at age 18 cyclist Taylor Phinney is a good bet to medal in Beijing. But more important than any Olympic hardware for the prodigy is that, after radical brain surgery, his dad—the legendary Davis Phinney—is back in the saddle.

July 2008

The director of Taylor Phinney's Garmin-Chipotle cycling team, Jonathan Vaughters, shares his favorite Denver bike rides.

Every second counts—he knows that all too well.

Straddling his bike in the driveway of his Boulder home, Davis Phinney waits for his son, Taylor, to finish getting ready. Already dressed in his Pearl Izumi cycling shorts, his jaw firm and his biceps bulging in his Maratona delle Dolomiti race jersey, he still looks like the guy in the old poster curling on the far wall of the garage, winning Colorado's famed Morgul-Bismarck road race in 1979—one of the first of more than 300 bike races he'd go on to win in his extraordinary career. The crazy thing is that the guy in front of me looks like he's maybe in his late 30s—which means he would have been in grade school in 1979. But athletes are like that, some of them. They stay young well after their prime. Normally.

The garage is packed nearly to the rafters with skis and bikes and kayaks and camping gear and other outdoor equipment, leaving no room for the family car; an Audi wagon sulks at the curb, covered in salt and grime. "I was like Adventure Dad," Davis says, "getting the kids out on everything, doing everything. But we don't use most of this stuff anymore."

The door to the house opens and 18-year-old Taylor Phinney appears, all six feet and four inches of him, clack-clacking down the steps in his cycling shoes before grabbing his own bike. They look almost nothing alike: Davis is lean and muscular, while Taylor is long and jangly-limbed, with the milky-pale skin and light hair of his mom, Connie Carpenter-Phinney, who, like her husband, is also a champion cyclist. "I've been waiting for you," Mini-Phinney, as Taylor is known, tells Davis, who'd spent the morning at church.

But now Adventure Dad is pushing the envelope: It's been a few hours since he has taken his pills, and soon, he knows, they'll begin to wear off. He'll feel the tingle in his left leg, and the tightness throughout his body; before long the tremor will start up again, and it will require a monumental effort to make his way through a complete sentence or finish a meal without flicking food onto the table.

"It feels like fingernails on a chalkboard," Davis tells me later. Even his balance is shaky. A couple of months ago, he fell on his town bike, breaking his wrist but refusing to learn the lesson that his Parkinson's disease has been trying to teach him: He's supposed to be getting old before his time.

They've got to hurry off if they want to get in a full ride, so they click into their pedals and roll down the driveway. I watch them disappear around the corner and accelerate up the road, one of the great American cyclists of the late 20th century leading his son, who is already well on his way to becoming one of the legends of the 21st.